ROCKINGHAM — A California company is asking Richmond County residents to pay $83 for public real estate records that cost about $2.
Register of Deeds Linda Douglas said 10 residents have brought mailings from Record Transfer Services to the office to inquire about payment. The solicitations resemble bills and ask recipients to pay an $83 “document fee” to obtain copies of their current grant deeds.
Douglas said folks don’t need to send money to California for their Richmond County property records. Deeds can be viewed for free online at http://richmondrod.net.
The Register of Deeds office charges a copy fee of 35 cents per page, and certified copies of deeds typically cost a couple bucks at most.
“Your deed is kept on file by the register of deeds in your county, and if you need a copy, all you have to do is contact them,” Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a statement. “You can usually find your deed online and print it for free, and even if you need a certified copy, it will only cost you a few dollars.”
The N.C. Department of Justice is sounding the alarm about a similar mailing from a company called Local Records Office that charges $89 for copies of property deeds. Cooper notes that while the name sounds vaguely official, “the Local Records Office is really just a rented mailbox in Raleigh.”
The Record Transfer Services solicitation includes a “please respond by” date, which the attorney general said could allow people to confuse the mailing with a legitimate bill. It does, however, include two disclaimers identifying the letter as an advertisement rather than an invoice.
“This product or service has not been approved by or endorsed by any government agency, and this offer is not being made by an agency of the government,” states a copy of the mailing Douglas provided to the Daily Journal. “This is not a bill. This is a solicitation; you are under no obligation to pay the amount stated unless you accept this offer.”
A variety of companies send mailings advertising deed copying services, and not all include explicit and prominent disclaimers. Cooper said among the most misleading are those from companies with official-sounding names.
“Con artists know people pay attention to mailings that appear to have been sent by a government agency, so they use variations of this scam on an ongoing basis” Cooper said in the statement. “Over the years, our office has warned consumers and businesses about a number of these rip-offs.”
Douglas said in June that misleading mailings from Record Transfer Services were circulating in Richmond County. The solicitations were titled “Deed processing notice” or “Recorded deed notice” in large capital letters.
Mailings from the same California company have turned up in Iredell and Union counties, leading the Iredell register of deeds to contact Cooper’s office.
“(I)n North Carolina, grantees routinely are sent a copy of the filed deed by the closing attorney, so there is little need for the service being pitched in the mailing,” Special Deputy Attorney General David Kirkman wrote in an email to Iredell officials. “The mailing, however, appears designed to make those grantees believe they must respond immediately by sending the designated fee of $83.”
Record Transfer Services is based in Westlake Village, California. The Better Business Bureau has given it an “F” grade for 11 complaints filed against the business in the past three years.
The company uses alternate business names including Compliance Document Services, Deed Processing Center and Property Transfer Service, the Better Business Bureau says.
Last June, Indiana’s attorney general sued the company and two others over misleading mailings that offered copies of deeds for up to $89, according to the BBB.
Requests for birth, death and marriage records in Richmond County can be filed online at http://richmondrod.net.
Anyone who receives the Record Transfer Services mailing or any direct mail they believe to be deceptive or fraudulent can call the N.C. Department of Justice’s consumer hotline at 1-877-NO-SCAM (1-877-566-7226).
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-817-2670 and follow him on Twitter @RCDailyJournal.