EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 12, 2013

Mail scam targets property owners

Delaware company tries to sell free copies of deeds for $83

By Mark E. Vogler

---- — LAWRENCE — Register of Deeds M. Paul Iannuccillo is warning homeowners to beware of a Delaware company offering to sell them a copy of their deed and a related “property profile” for $83 — when they can get the same documents for free locally.

The Northern Essex District Registry of Deeds office issued a Registry Consumer Alert after learning of a recent letter titled “Deed Processing Notice” mailed by Property Transfer Services to area homeowners. The letter resembles a bill and lists a “Compliance Response Date” for sending the check with a special form to be returned in an enclosed envelope.

“At first glance, it looks very official,” Iannuccillo said in an interview yesterday.

“But I think it’s a scam. Are you going to pay $83 for something you can get for free on-line from your personal computer? Of course not. Unfortunately, if you look at it real quickly, I can see how somebody might just send away for the information. I plan on calling the police chiefs and making them aware of the this,” he said.

“We’ve heard from about a dozen people. A Lawrence resident who came in the other day to get a new deed provided us with the letter. We also got a call from an attorney who represents an elderly Methuen client. It appears this company is targeting homeowners in all of our communities,” he said.

Iannuccillo, who is concerned that senior citizens could be potential victims, took steps yesterday to alert the public by having a bulletin posted on the registry’s website

“The registry’s notice is informing homeowners that they can print their deed for free from the website or contact the registry’s new Customer Service Desk for a free certified copy of their deed, which we can mail to them,” he said.

Homeowners can obtain access to the registry’s computer database at the website (lawrencedeeds.com). Or, they can call the Customer Service Desk at 978-557-1900 or email northernessexcustomerservice@sec.state.ma.us. The Northern Essex District registry office — which serves Andover, Lawrence, Methuen and North Andover — is located at 354 Merrimack St., Suite #304, Entry C, in Lawrence.

In its solicitation letter, Property Transfer Services acknowledged it was not associated with any governmental agency.

But, it did provide some inaccurate information about related charges of documents available at the local registry.

“You can obtain a copy of your grant deed or other record of title from the county recorder in the county where your property is located in, for up to $83,” the letter stated.

“...The county clerk’s office may charge a small fee for certified copies of such deeds, usually between two and four dollars a page. Since most property deeds are between two and five pages in length, a certified copy can usually be obtained for between four and twenty dollars,” the company added.

The deeds-related information the company is trying to sell “is totally free” to any citizen who contacts or calls the registry office, Iannuccillo said.

Information in the company’s Property Profile — including comparable values — can also be obtained at no charge from the computer website of the local tax assessor’s office, Iannuccillo said.

“This is all public information, which people shouldn’t be paying money for,” he said.

Nobody was available yesterday at Property Transfer Services office in Wilmington, Delaware to comment on the registry’s consumer alert. A clerk answering the phone told a reporter that the office supervisor would call back. But The Eagle-Tribune hasn’t heard from a company representative.

The Better Business Bureau of Delaware has no rating for Property Transfer Services.

“BBB does not have sufficient information to determine how long this business has been operating,” the organization said on its website.

“BBB made one or more requests for background information from the business. BBB has not received a response from business and/or has not been able to verify information received from business.” the BBB said.