County clerks statewide are warning tornado victims not to be taken in by mail solicitations from companies offering to obtain and sell them copies of their property deeds.
The deeds will be provided free to victims of the recent storms, said Cleveland County Clerk Tammy Belinson. All other property owners can obtain copies of their real estate records for nominal fees.
Belinson said several residents have brought her copies of letters from a company called Property Transfer Services of Thousand Oaks, Calif., that prompts homeowners to obtain property records. The company then offers to provide the records for a processing fee of $83.
“This is a waste of money, and in my opinion, a total scam on the part of this company,” Belinson said.
The county clerk said she will provide the same records free to any tornado victim. Other property owners who need a copy of their deeds are charged $1 for a regular copy or $3 for a certified copy.
Companies that solicit customers through the mail by offering to obtain records for homeowners for substantial fees are an ongoing problem, Belinson said. “But it's a particular problem right now as many property owners are needing copies of their deeds for insurance purposes because of losses suffered in the recent tornadoes.”
“I find it particularly distressing that companies would prey on people at a time like this,” she said.
Oklahoma County Clerk Carolyn Caudill recalled a similar problem that happened in the aftermath of the May 3, 1999, tornado that hit Moore.
“While no one has brought a letter like this to our attention this time round, I expect there may be some circulating. I would certainly warn residents not to pay that kind of fee for a service we would gladly provide for free,” Caudill said.
Caudill said she has had some tornado victims come to her office in need of deeds.
“We have made them copies,” she said. “We will continue to provide them what they need free of charge, and I would hope every clerk in the state would do the same.”
Fees are limited
In nonemergency cases year-round, property owners statewide can obtain copies of deeds for a nominal fee. Fees for such records are limited by state statute to a maximum of $1 for a regular copy or $3 for a certified copy, Caudill said.
“We as county clerks can always charge less than the statutory maximum. In emergency situations, where property owners have lost their homes due to tornado or fire, we provide them for free. It's the least we can do, and one way we can help out,” Belinson said.
Assistant county clerks in Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties, where tornado victims live, say they are getting reports of similar letters circulating.
Those counties charge minimum copying fees for records, and tornado victims can ask for free copies, assistants said.
Belinson said her office experienced a similar problem in 2008, only the company had a different name and location, and the fee was $69.50.
While the letters may not be illegal, they are unethical, Belinson said.
The company or companies apparently monitor public records and send out solicitation letters to people who have recently bought property, created a trust or otherwise made changes to a deed, she said.
Residents with questions or concerns about solicitation letters should call their local county clerk's office.