Document Retrieval Services: Scam or Convenience?

You receive an official-looking and urgent letter in the mail stating that you need to obtain a certified copy of the deed to your house in order to protect yourself and that the company sending the letter can help. This needs to be done immediately, so drop what you are doing and send in your check. Right?

Some Register of Deeds Offices Cry Foul

A number of local register of deeds offices have posted online alerts regarding solicitations of so-called document retrieval service companies, claiming that they are alarming residents into paying excessive fees for something they the residents can do themselves at the local register of deeds office. Some of the alerts include:

A copy of one of the contentious Michigan Document Retrieval Service letters reads:mdrs_letter

The Cost of Doing Business

Just because the document retrieval service is charging more money that your local register of deeds charges does not mean that it is a scam.  If the company provides the service it claims and it upfront about the costs, the extra money charged equates to the cost of doing business as an understood convenience to the consumer.  It is likely inexpensive to go directly to or call your local register of deeds to obtain copies yourself, unless you do not live in the area. For example instead of preparing dinner or walking the dog yourself, you can hire and pay someone else to do it. The consumer weights the options, balancing time vs. money.

But Beware Untruthful Representations

The grey area in terms of scam might be the pressure-filled language and print, or other urgent representations that is often used in these letters to move the consumer to sign up for the service.These companies should be careful not to represent things that are not true; or better yet, to advise the resident of their and option to be able go directly to their local register of deeds office instead.

For example, the Michigan Document Retrieval Service letter clearly uses urgent language such as “Your rights may be in jeopardy…” and “You should obtain one immediately…” It further goes to state that you should have a certified copy of your deed on hand; where, while certified copies are necessary for certain transactions, they are not necessary for research or verification purposes as to title. Also, just having a copy of the deed, while it allows one to verify that information on the deed is correct, does not allow one to verify “free and clear title”, that the property is “free from all liens and encumbrances”, that title is “defendable in court against all legal claims”, or to “verify that property taxes are entered in your name”, as the above document indicates.  This is where the potential for misrepresentation, intentional or otherwise, creeps in.

There has been nothing to suggest that these companies do not deliver on the service that they promise. Rather, complaints revolve around the sales tactics but even more so the price. Scam? Probably not. Wise? It’s the buyer’s choice, and buyer should make an educated decision, or beware. GJR

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