Friday, August 24, 2007

A Scam Indeed?

I got an interesting piece of mail yesterday that immediately screamed "SCAM!" at me.

An outfit calling itself "FL Certified Deed Services" sent me a letter offering me a "Certified Copy of your Deed." "If you don't already have this important document," the letter states, "you should obtain one NOW." Conveniently enough, FL Certified Deed Services will do it for me for a mere $65.00, plus $4.95 for shipping and handling.

Let's forget for a moment that I can call the Hillsborough County Clerk of Circuit Court's office myself (Phone: 813-276-8100, ext. 3461 for the Official Records Department) and get a certified copy of my deed for less than $10. It costs $2.50 per page. The woman I spoke to said that deeds generally run 1-3 pages.

If I don't need a certified copy, I can get one for free from the Clerk's web site. In fact, I did.

I logged on to hillsclerk.com, and clicked "Online Services" on the left-hand side of the page. That offers a drop-down menu. I clicked "Online Searches" then "Search Official Records." I agreed to the disclaimer and it took me to the search page. I typed my name in, specified a date range, hit "Search" and up came the matching record. I clicked on that and the site generated a PDF file of my deed. Done.

Even before I took the time to discover that, some things about the letter smelled fishy. It explained that the deed to my property was recorded by the "Hillsborough County Register's office." No such office exists. The letter cited the "U.S. Government Federal Citizen Information Center" as recommending that property owners have a certified copy of their deed. But Google "U.S. Government Federal Citizen Information Center" and you learn that there is no office by that name. In fact most of the results point to articles and even government sites warning people away from these "deed services" offering the same overpriced deal.

It doesn't help its case that FL Deed Services says it's located in Miami but the phone number to which you fax your order (609-360-0416) has the area code of Trenton, New Jersey. Google that and you find that NY Deed Services also uses the same number.

And the final giveaway is at the bottom of the page:

FL Certified Deed Services is not affiliated
with the "State of Florida."
MANY GOVERNMENT RECORDS ARE AVAILABLE FREE OR 
AT A NOMINAL COST FROM GOVERNMENT AGENCIES

These aren't technically scams. But if I sent you a letter offering to order a pizza for you for 80 bucks, you'd know that you can call Papa John's yourself and have one delivered for a fraction of that price. When I asked the woman at the Clerk's office about the letter I had received from FL Certified Deed Services, she replied with a question of her own: "Do you have a garbage can?"

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am glad you created this blog. I got the same letter offering me a deed for a house I have never owned!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Bonita said...

Yes, thanks for the info. Nine months later it helped me to not respond to a letter from the NY Certified Deed Service. They sited the same Gov't Info Center and a Ohio county register's office.

Lindzy said...

I just got one of these letters today. It does have my correct property listed, only they want 99.85 + 5.00 S&H. I turned it over & on the back side, in very light gray lettering, was the following:
"Certified copies of property deeds are available at the county clerk's office, which may charge a small fee for certified copies of such deeds, usually between two & four dollars a page. Since most deeds are between two & five pages in length, a certified copy can usually be obtained for between four & twenty dollars."
It goes on to say that Fl Certified Deed Services is not affiliated with any State or Governmental agencies.
So why are they sending me this piece of garbage? Do they think people won't read the back of the letter?? Scary part is, how many people will fall for this rip off??

John said...

The people who took on mortgages they could never realistically afford might fall for it.

Someone is paying up or there wouldn't be so many of these people in business.

And, yes, they are counting on you being too lazy to read the whole thing before you send off your $105.