Deed scam hits area

Marie Havenga • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:49 AM

The Ottawa County Register of Deeds office wants to get the word out to not bite the bait.

Register of Deeds Chief Deputy Cathy Haiker said she knows of two companies that are sending letters to homebuyers, offering to send their property deed at outrageously inflated prices — 30-40 times more than it would cost to obtain the document locally.

Bill and Doris Gibson recently purchased a condominium in Spring Lake Township. Last week, they received a letter from the National Record Service Inc. of Northbrook, Ill., offering to obtain a certified copy of their deed for $59.50.

And therein lies the real estate rub. Residents can get a copy of their deed for $1 per page from the Register of Deeds office. Most deeds are 1-2 pages.

To read the letter, click on the Related File below this story.

Bill Gibson said he was “too Dutch” to pay the almost $60, but said he was also unaware he could get it from the county for much less.

“I knew I wasn't going to send them that much money, so I just ignored it,” he said. “It's kind of misleading. It says it's advised by the U.S. government that we should have a certified copy of the deed. I didn't get a message from the U.S. government saying that"

The practice is not illegal, according to the Better Business Bureau, because the company is offering a service. The letter clearly states that “many government records are available free or at a nominal cost from government agencies.”

But that doesn't mean it's not misleading. According to the Chicago and Northern Illinois Better Business Bureau, 111 complaints were filed against National Record Service Inc. in the past three years. Twenty-five have been filed so far this year.

National Record Service representatives did not return phone calls from the Tribune. The company's outgoing message states it is a private company that buys mailing lists of real estate transactions, which is public information. It also advises that some people may already have a copy of their deed from the title company or an original sent from the recorder's office.

“This is not something you must have,” the outgoing message said. “It is strictly your choice."

Both the Ottawa County Register of Deeds and the Michigan Attorney General's website offer warnings about companies that offer to provide documents to consumers.

“We have a notice out there saying people can get it from us a lot cheaper,” Haiker said.

Haiker said a second company with an address in Washington, D.C. — Conveyance Transfer Service — offers a similar deed mailing service for $84.

You may pick up a copy of your deed at the Register of Deeds, 12220 Fillmore St. in West Olive; or at the main-floor public service center in the Ottawa County Courthouse, 414 Washington Ave. in Grand Haven. You may also e-mail a request to register@miottawa.org.

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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