Two deed companies send out confusing mailers

August 6, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Home buyers across the country are getting official-looking notices in their mailboxes asking them to pay for a copy of their deeds.

We've reported on these types of companies before. They send you a letter that can be mistaken for an official government notice. In this case, two companies are sending out mailers to home buyers asking for a lot of money for a document you can get for next to nothing.

"You think, 'Oh, this must be from the county recorder's office,'" said Alexa Suslow.

Suslow is talking about a notice that came in the mail, right after her family bought a house in San Mateo County.

"The envelope said, 'important property information respond promptly,'" said Suslow.

The notice was from Local Records Office. It says that office "provides a copy of the only document that identifies (Mr.) Suslow as the property owner." The notice said to respond by Aug. 17 and send in $89 to get their copy of the deed.

"I wanted to make sure if it was something I just needed to file," said Suslow.

At first the Suslows thought it might be one of the many documents they needed to file in order to complete the purchase. Luckily Suslow read it more carefully.

"And the more I read it, the more things looked phony," said Suslow.

"This is not a governmental agency, it's a private company trying to take advantage of unsuspecting people," said Mark Church, the San Mateo County Assessor/Recorder.

Church warns the notice is not official at all. Local Records Office is really a private company selling copies of deeds for $89, which is way more than the county charges.

"For your typical deed it might be $5 or $6," said Church.

Church says counties automatically provide homeowners with their original deed for no cost. Homeowners can also obtain copies for a few dollars at the recorder's office or even get it by mail.

"There's no reason to do this, absolutely no reason to do this," said Church.

However for Suslow this didn't end with one sales pitch. She said, "A week later another envelope came stating the same thing."

A second company called Secured Document Services of Washington D.C. also sent an official-looking letter saying they should buy a copy of their deed, titled deed processing notice. It says they should pay $86 by a due date of Aug. 10.

"It got enough of my attention that I wanted to call 7 On Your Side," said Suslow.

We contacted the two companies asking why anyone should pay the high price for a copy of their deed. Local Records Office said: "We offer a service and it's an optional service. If you're interested in the service, you can pay the fee and if you're not interested, you can disregard the letter."

Secured Document Services said: "We offer this as a convenience for customers. It can be difficult to find time to stand in line a t the county recorder's office. We are just an alternative source for getting the deed."

State law bars companies from mailing solicitations that look like government documents and ask for money. Both companies said they are perfectly legal because they put several disclaimers on their letters saying they are not from the government.

For example, the notice by Secured Document Services said, "This service to obtain a copy of your grant not associated with any governmental agency."

Local Records Office adds a disclaimer saying, "You can obtain a copy of your deed or other record of title from the county recorder for a nominal fee."

However Church says disclaimers should be in bold face on every section, and the law bars use of words like "due date" that imply urgency.

"There is certainly some question here as to whether or not they are satisfying the requirements of the law," said Church.

The San Mateo County District Attorney's office tells us it is investigating these letters to determine if they comply with state law. We found several complaints online about these solicitations. If you receive one, you shouldn't respond, but do let me know about it.

You can contact me here.

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