PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Tom Kennedy was thrilled that after 22 years he paid off his mortgage.
"It's a wonderful step in life to finally get to that point," Kennedy said.
Then came a letter. On the top right it read, "Official court document," sent by a company called Florida Certified Record Retrieval, stating that for $54.50 he can get a certified copy of his recorded deed.
"To me it's just junk mail," Kennedy said.
That's because as the director of Broward County's records, taxes and treasury division, he knows something others may not. The document the company is offering to sell people can be accessed online for free and can be seen any time of the day and night.
For those who want a certified copy, it costs about $2. County officials said they want people to know the offers are not coming from any government agency and certainly not from Broward County.
"It does look official," Jeannie Terwilliger of the Broward County Records Department said.
They are private businesses making money off offering people something that can be requested by anyone.
"We don't know whether they actually provide the document requested to the parties involved," Terwilliger said.
The county provided sample letters to Local 10 News. Local 10 consumer advocate Christina Vazquez traced one from a so-called "Local Records Office" located in Tallahassee to a UPS box on the campus of Florida State University. They are charging people an $89 service fee.
"It's a very clever way to finance your way through school," Kennedy said.
The FSU Office of University Communications replied when Local 10 inquired if it was a student business.
"FSU has not been contacted by any authorities about any possible illegal activity associated with a campus address, but the university has prosecuted mail fraud in the past," the statement read. "If FSU is contacted by authorities, the university will certainly assist and take appropriate action."
"Record Transfer Services," a company located in California, charges $83. Another company called Florida Record Retrieval lists an address in Plantation. The receptionist directed Local 10 to a telephone, where Vazquez spoke with company official Barry Isaacson. He said they are based in Chicago and offer a legitimate service aimed at convenience.
"They are providing a service that's available at a minimal charge here with us," Isaacson said.
Now that people know they can get a certified copy of a deed for a fraction of the price the companies are pitching, the next question is: Is it needed?
"You don't necessarily need a hard copy," Terwilliger said. "It's a permanent record in the official record."
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