Franklin County Recorder of Deeds Sharon Birkman said a company allegedly has taken electronic copies of the county’s deed records, possibly to sell to a third party.
“Our deeds are very valuable,” Birkman told The Missourian Thursday. “So they scrape and they sell them to different companies.”
All that is known at this point is that the deeds were taken, Birkman said. It has not been proven that the deeds were sold, but Birkman asked why else would a company take them.
She suspects that 87,000 deeds were harvested from Franklin County. Her office has millions of deeds on file going back to the 1800s. The deeds that were taken are from the years of 2011-2013, she said, adding that she found out about it in March of 2013.
The company that allegedly took the deeds may have its own company that sells the documents, Birkman noted.
Her software company, Fidlar Technologies, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Illinois against LPS Real Estate Data Solutions for allegedly harvesting data from recorder of deeds offices in counties in Missouri and across the United States, she said.
“We have an agreement that says you will not sell the information that they (LPS) did sign,” said Birkman, who is a witness in the lawsuit.
Birkman said she believes LPS sold deed records, such as warranty deeds, deeds of trust, deeds of release and easements.
“So if you scrape thousands of records and sell them to another company you’re making a lot of money because they’re very valuable documents,” Birkman said.
Birkman noted that the software company discovered that the deeds were being harvested.
The records might be sold to companies that sell the documents over the Internet, Birkman said. Those companies charge more than what the county would charge, she said.
For instance, Birkman said a person may pay a company $50 for a copy of a deed and the company just gets it from the county for $2.
She said she is also aware of companies that will send letters to people telling them that they need a copy of their deed of trust or warranty deed. The company may then charge about $80 for the document.
Birkman said people can go to the county recorder of deeds office and obtain a copy of the same document for about $2.
She said her office has various charges to search the database of deeds her office maintains.
For instance, an individual could do an online search for $5.95 while a title company may pay $400 for monthly access. About 12 companies, including the one accused of taking the records, have paid for the monthly access, Birkman said.
The companies are supposed to use the deeds for their personal business, not sell the information.
Fortunately, sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers, and financial records are not at risk, according to Birkman.
“We redact every Social Security number that’s on a deed, black it out,” Birkman said.
This is the first time she recalls deeds being taken from her office in this manner since her tenure, which started in 1995. She praised her software company, Fidlar Technologies, for alerting her.
“Everybody knows one of these days you’re going to get hacked into I guess . . .,” Birkman said. “And you’ve got to have a good software company to throw up the fire walls and keep them out.”
The attorney for LPS could not be reached for comment by press time Friday.