Chicago Firm Promotes Obtaining Deeds Needlessly, BBB Warns

  
     
March 29, 2010

St. Louis, Mo., Feb. 1, 2010 – Property owners in the bi-state region continue to pay a Chicago area company for copies of property deeds that they either don’t need or which they could obtain for significantly less from government offices.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns consumers to be skeptical of official-looking notices mailed by National Deed Service, Inc., a company with addresses in Northbrook, Ill., and Washington, D.C.

A notice mailed to a St. Louis woman last week offered to provide a certified copy of a deed for property on Stratford Avenue in St. Louis at a cost of $59.50. The woman’s daughter said her mother had died two years ago.

“This is not right,” the daughter said.

The Chicago BBB has processed 59 complaints against National Deed Service in the past 36 months.  The company has an “F” grade with the BBB, the lowest grade possible.
 
Many complainants said the company had tried to trick them into paying unnecessarily for copies of deeds.

Michelle Corey, president and CEO of the BBB in St. Louis, said National Deed Service and companies like it thrive on convincing property owners that they must have the copies of their deeds and that the company is the best source of such documents.

“Most people have no real need for copies of their deeds,” she said.  “And if they do, they can usually get them for a few dollars from the recorder’s office where they are on file.”

Claudia Allbright, a supervisor in the microfilm department in the St. Louis Recorder of Deeds office, said her office has dealt with residents’ concerns over National Deed Service in the past.

“I get really aggravated,” she said, referring to the high cost of the copies. “It’s so wrong.”

She said most property deeds can be obtained from the city for less than $10.   She said she knows that property owners have fallen victim to the notices because the office periodically receives requests for copies from National Deed Service.

Barbara Hall, recorder of deeds in St. Charles County, said her office has issued warnings twice in recent years, alerting property owners to the actions of National Deed Service.  In a 2008 warning, her office said the company was charging “an excessive fee for documents easily available to residents for much less.”
 
Hall said most of those who received mailings steered clear of the offer.  But, she said, the office did receive 16 or 17 requests from the company on behalf of property owners who paid the fees.  Although it was a relatively small number, she said, “at $60 a pop, they’re making a little money.”  She said the company will “send a bunch of mailings out and then, a couple years go by, and they’ll send a bunch more.”  She said similar mailings are going out nationwide.
 
The letter National Deed Service sent to the St. Louis resident said, “The U.S. Government Federal Citizen Information Center website recommends that property owners should have an official or certified copy of their deed.  If you don’t already have this important document, you may obtain one now.”  The mailing ends with a disclosure that, “many government records are available free or at a nominal cost from government agencies.”

The woman whose deceased mother received the solicitation said she believes others are being duped by similar offers.  “How can they do that and get away with it?” she asked.
 
The company’s website says, “It is not an easy process to obtain public records from a governmental agency.”  It says people often have to lose time from work, locate the proper office and pay for parking.  “When considering all of the above, the service provided by National Deed Service, Inc., is a cost- and time-effective service.”

The BBB offers the following tips for persons obtaining property deeds or other public records:

  • Make sure that you really need the document.
  • Read and understand mail solicitations carefully.  If you have questions about whether a mailing is from a government agency or a private company, call the agency and ask.
  • Check with local government offices to determine the fastest and cheapest way to obtain a document.
  • Check with the BBB for Reliability Reports at www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.

Contacts: Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-3300, mcorey@stlouisbbb.org or Bill Smith, Trade Practice Investigator, 314-645-3300, tpc1@stlouisbbb.org