By Linda M. Toga, Esq.
I generally do not revisit a topic if I have discussed it in a prior article. However, based on the number of phone calls I’ve received from clients in response to alarming solicitations they’ve received in the mail, I am making an exception this month.
It has been almost three years since I first warned readers about a scam involving unscrupulous companies that scared property owners into purchasing unnecessary certified copies of their deeds at inflated prices ranging from $59 to $129. Unfortunately, the companies behind the scam are still at it. In fact, the problem has apparently become so widespread that the Suffolk County Clerk recently sent a letter to property owners advising them that there was no immediate need to purchase certified copies of their deeds.
My original article which includes information on how to obtain a certified copy of the deed to your property in the unlikely event you need one, follows. While this article deals exclusively with deeds, there is a lesson to be learned here that applies to all types of legal documents. If you are asked to send money or to take some other type of action in connection with a contract, power of attorney, deed, lease or license, to name a few, it is best to consult an experienced attorney before you act. Scams like the one discussed here are only successful when people make uninformed choices. So please, get expert advice before you act in such matters.
The Facts: I recently received a letter from a company suggesting that I should have a certified copy of my deed. The company offered to get the deed for me for about $85.
The Question: Is this a scan?
The Answer: Yes, it is a scam and one that is quite lucrative for the company making the offer. The reason it is a scam is that most people will never need a certified copy of their deed. In the unlikely event a property owner needs to produce a certified copy of a deed, they can easily obtain one either in person or by mail for a fraction of what the company is charging. Although companies like the one that sent you the letter often refer to an article published by the Federal Citizen Information Center (“FCIC”) to convince property owners that they must have a certified copies of their deeds, it is noteworthy that the FCIC website contains a warning about the deceptive practices of companies that send mass mailings like the one you received to unsuspecting property owners.
How It Works: When you purchased your property, the original deed signed by the seller should have been forwarded to the county clerk for recording. Once the deed was recorded in the county land records, the original deed would have been returned to you, as the new property owner, or to your attorney. If, for some reason, the original deed was not returned to you or your attorney, or if it has been lost, you can obtain a copy of the deed from the county clerk in the county where your property is located. For property in Suffolk County, you can call the Suffolk County Clerk’s Office at 631-852-2000 for information on how to obtain a copy of your deed. If, in fact, you do need a certified copy of your deed, the county clerk can also provide you with a certified copy of your deed. Rather than paying the $85 charged by some private companies, you will only have to pay the county clerk about $5.00, including postage and handling, to get a certified copy of a deed up to 4 pages long.
Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides legal services in the areas of litigation, estate planning and real estate from her East Setauket office.