Beware of Deed Scam

Last week was National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), a campaign that encourages consumers to take full advantage of their rights and make better-informed decisions. Unfortunately, scams never stop. The NCPW website offers a way to keep up with scams, highlighting some of the most common schemes, with red flags and tips to keep consumers safe.

Attorney General Mark Herring is warning Virginia property owners to be cautious of companies offering to sell them a copy of the deed to their home. Homeowners throughout the state have been receiving official looking letters, often titled as a “Deed Processing Notice,” that offer to sell them a copy of their deed for $83. The letters specify that homeowners must comply by a specific date. Often these letters are received shortly after you’ve purchased your house or refinanced your mortgage. “Even though these letters look like official notices, they are actually solicitations and should be treated as such,” Attorney General Herring said. In other words, these letters are a scam.

You should never need to pay to get a copy of your recorded deed, because you always get the original deed back within a few months after closing – directly from the Settlement Agent who handled your closing. Here’s what happens: when you first buy your home or other real estate, the Settlement Agent who handles your closing sends your deed to the County courthouse to be recorded; after recordation, the courthouse sends your deed back to the Settlement Agent and the Settlement Agent then sends it to you, typically along with your Title Insurance Policy (assuming you purchased Owners Title Insurance, which most buyers do). Most people put that Deed and Title Insurance Policy in a safe location such a bank safe deposit box or a small home safe.

Please keep in mind that the mortgage lender does NOT keep your deed until you pay off your mortgage. That happens with car titles, but not with real estate deeds. If you need your original deed for something and you can’t locate it, you should start by calling the Settlement Agent who handled your closing and asking for a copy. If for some reason they don’t have a copy, or you can’t recall the name of the Settlement Agent, then you can go to the land records division of the county courthouse and obtain a copy of your recorded deed for a very small copying fee. In some smaller counties, you might even be able to call the county land records office and they might be willing to work out sending you a copy without you having to come in to the courthouse.

At the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we encourage you to stay informed about this and other scams this Consumer Protection Week and always. Other scams out there include phony charities asking for donations, advance-fee loans, fake checks and identity theft. Read the FBI Common Fraud Schemes Web page or the Better Business Bureau Scam Stopper Web page for more details and be sure to report any scams to the Better Business Bureau. In addition, please read our “Don’t Let Your Mother-in-law Get Duped” post for more details.

Keeping up with scams that are affecting consumers is important. It is also very important to keep up with your planning. If you have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. as soon as possible at our Virginia Elder Law Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Elder Law Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 to schedule your appointment for our introductory consultation.

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