Beware of Real Estate Deed Solicitation Scams

As elder law and estate planning attorneys, the work that we do for our clients often requires that real property be transferred or given either to a trust or to another party. This requires that a deed be signed and recorded with the city or county in which the real property is located. There is typically a filing fee due to the city or county, and then the recorded deed becomes part of the public record. Anyone who knows how to do so (including some unscrupulous companies) can usually obtain a copy of the deed along with other information about the property such as the tax assessed value of the property, the ownership history, and even information such as the square footage of the house and other similar details.

While it is important to be able to access this information, online access to property records also creates an opportunity for scammers who become aware that property has recently been sold or transferred.  Some companies will comb through records of real estate transactions and send mailings to new homeowners that appear to be from a government agency. Typically, these mailings come from entities such as “The City of Chesapeake” or “U.S. Government,” so they seem very official and legitimate. In these letters, fraudulent companies attempt to fool homeowners into paying $95 or even more for a copy of their real estate deed, “tax assessment profile,” and other publicly available information. These companies use persuasive language, such as offering to obtain “certified copies” of your documents, to get people to pay for unnecessary documents.

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These types of companies prey on people who have recently bought or sold real property, transferred the title to their property, or refinanced their mortgage. They know that homeowners have recently had to sign and complete a great deal of paperwork, and may be in the habit of signing and completing more paperwork without giving it a second thought. However, the reality is that your recorded deed should be given to you upon its recordation in the city or county where the property is located. Typically, the attorney or title company in charge of the real estate closing will provide a copy to you for no additional charge. Additionally, if you cannot locate the deed to your house and need to obtain a copy of it, most recorded deeds and other property information is available online or through the court for either no fee or a very small fee.

Remember – you do not need to pay large amounts of money to get information about your real estate. If you receive mail that seems questionable or suspicious, it is important to verify its legitimacy before sending any money or information to the company. When in doubt, contact your closing attorney or your estate planning attorney. They will be able to review the mailing to assess its legitimacy and possibly even provide you the information you may be trying to find. It is important to never provide personal information (especially Social Security Numbers) or make payments to any company unless you are completely sure it is a legitimate request.

Ask Kit Kat: Pandemic Adaptations

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about how animals are coping during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Kit Kat: Well, animals seem oblivious to the chaos going on around them. In many cases, they seem to have benefited from the lack of human visitors. On April 7, The Guardian reported the Ying Ying and Le Le, two giant pandas in Hong Kong, had mated naturally for the first time in 10 years! The pair of 14-year olds apparently had enough privacy to do what comes naturally. Insemination had not worked well for Le Le, who had suffered several miscarriages when that had to be resorted to. They are not sure yet if she is pregnant, but staff were ecstatic to see this happening.

In Thailand, good news comes about sea turtles. Popular tourist resort, Phuket Island on lockdown, according to www.cnn.com on April 20, reports that there are more sea turtles nests than have been seen in the last 20 years! Hermit crabs and dolphins are also rebounding! All it took was a break from humans.

Closer to home in Hampton Roads, wildlife in captivity are enjoying some new experiences. At the Virginia Aquarium in Virginia Beach, Gizmo an opossum, has been set free for periods of time. He made front page of The Virginian-Pilot newspaper on April 20 wandering near the Red Sea Tunnel exhibit. Zebu cattle at the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk have been left to roam the premises. In Newport News, the Living Museum reports that skunks are out and about. Mostly, the animals are given more freedom. Their diet remains unchanged. What has changed is how staff interact with them. After a tiger tested positive for COVID-19 at the Bronx Zoo earlier this month, staff in many of these facilities which feature wild creatures wear protective gear when it is necessary to interact with them. Used to seeing their handlers and recognizing them by face, they now have to adapt to seeing them in hazmat gear.

So to summarize, it looks like many animals are benefiting during this period. Hopefully, once the pandemic is over, their human caretakers can learn how to permanently maintain some of the good things that happened during this trying time in our history.

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