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Anatomy of a Scam

                As far as scams go, it is not one that will cause anyone to lose their life savings.  Maybe calling it a scam is not entirely accurate.  At the very least the letter Joan received was misleading and confusing.  As part of an asset protection plan we placed Joan’s home into a trust.  We prepared a deed which Joan signed and we recorded it with the Register of Deeds in the county where the home is located.  Once we received the deed back we sent it to Joan.

                A few months later Joan received a letter from the “Local Records Office”, in connection with the “recently recorded deed” to her home, which of course was the one we recorded.  The letter stated that for a $100 fee they would send her “a copy of the only document that identifies Joan as the property owner” as well as a “complete property profile”.  The letter does not explain what this profile is exactly.

                Joan called us confused as to whether she needs what this company is offering.  She does not.  I have received similar calls from clients for years.  These services have been around for quite a while.  They are required to place disclaimers at the top and bottom of the letter but it still confused recipients.

                One states that the service is not affiliated with any government agency, although cleverly Joan’s letter is from a company that calls itself “Local Records Office”.  Sure sounds like a government agency.  Another disclaimer makes clear that the letter is not a bill but rather an offer.  There is no obligation to pay the $100 unless you accept the offer.  However, prominently displayed in bold and boxed off is a “Please Respond By” date.  It almost looks mandatory but it isn’t.  Makes me question what happens if I don’t respond by the date specified.

                 These companies don’t just target seniors.  They search the public records for all deeds recently recorded so homeowners of any age receive them.  However, seniors may be more easily confused by the mixed messages and may conclude that they need to pay this unnecessary fee.

                 I explained to Joan that she already has the recorded deed which we sent her.  The property profile is not necessary.  All the information Joan could ever need about her property is on the deed.  In fact, currently many counties provide online access where you can get a copy of your deed – although not an official copy – for no charge.

                 As I stated at the outset, this scam isn’t likely to cause anyone to lose their shirt but it is one homeowners should be aware of.