Elizabethton official warns of deed-fee scam

John Thompson • Dec 28, 2013 at 8:55 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Although the companies are not breaking the law, Carter County Register of Deeds Jody Bristol is warning new property owners not to pay any attention to official-looking letters that ask for a “document fee” of $83 for a copy of their deed.

“I say they should just tear those letters up,” Bristol said Friday in her office. She was responding to letters she has seen that she says are especially confusing to elderly citizens.

“I had one man who had already written out a check and was ready to mail it before his daughter urged him to come in and ask us about the letter,” Bristol said.

Instead of paying a private company $83 for a deed copy, she said her office will be glad to make citizens a copy of their deed for 15 cents a page.

Bristol said state officials have discussed the solicitations from the private companies and determined they are not breaking the law, although the way the letters are composed, some readers could be confused into thinking they are from a government agency.

The letter Bristol said is currently being sent out has a short deadline of “21 business days” to send the check and contains official information on the individual’s property that Bristol said are merely taken off the Internet from a state website that records all tax records statewide.

While it may appear as government correspondence to some careless readers, the letter clearly states several times that it is a private solicitation. The letters say the company that sent it “is not affiliated with the county in which your deed is filed in, nor affiliated with any government agencies. This offer serves as a solicitation for services and not to be interpreted as a bill due.”

Despite this clear wording in the same size print as the rest of the letter, Bristol said property owners might mistake the letters for a bill and send in their money under that impression.

Bristol said anyone who receives a document they do not understand should take it to their courthouse for an explanation. She also advised residents not to pay $83 for something they can get for much less.

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