Surry County Register of Deeds, Carolyn M. Comer is warning county citizens to be on the lookout for a scam that has affected unsuspecting citizens in several states, including North Carolina now.
The scam had been detected in California, Iowa, Tennessee, and Florida in the last 12 to 18 months, and has now popped up in central and eastern North Carolina counties.
The scam comes in the form of a letter to property owners requesting money for copies of their land records.
“I’d urge any county citizen receiving such a solicitation to call us or drop by the office with the letter before putting a check in the mail to anyone,” Comer said. “These are your records, and we’re here to store and safeguard them. I see these letters as nothing but an effort to swindle money from unsuspecting county citizens. Don’t fall for it … call us.”
The scammers come into a state; set up a drop box to receive mail and then send out a deceptive letter to property owners trying to get them to send a check for $86 in order to receive what they’re calling a “Grant Deed and Property Profile.”
“First off, you probably already have your original deed and if you don’t and need a copy, our office can supply a copy of the document for only 25 cents per copied page,” Coomer said. And most people don’t actually need a copy of their deed just lying around anyway. If you’re transferring a piece of property or have some other legal reason to need a copy of your deed, we’re happy to help you. But don’t send anyone a check for $80 or $90 to obtain something that’s already available to you here in our office for a tiny fraction of that amount.”
The letter is sent out by U.S. Mail and can look official, as though it originated from some government agency at either the state or federal level. The letter lists the property address of your real estate, sometimes including a Property ID No. and has an ominous notation that this is your “FINAL NOTICE.”
“That’s probably where they get a lot of people … just good honest people trying to protect their credit and make sure they pay their bills on time,” Comer said.
Then in order to receive the documents, the scammers write that the receiver is required to make out a check payable to the “RECORD RETRIEVAL DEPARTMENT” and send it to an address in Raleigh.
The letter points out in fine print that the “product or service has not been approved or endorsed by an agency of the government” and that the company is not affiliated with the state or the Register of Deeds office.
“And what’s really scary is that once you’ve put that check in the mail … the scammers would not only have your money, but your checking account and bank routing numbers too,” Comer said. “Once they have that, along with any other personal information that might be on your checks … Lord only knows what they might do with the information. One thing I’m sure of … it wouldn’t be anything good.”