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Clerk: Watch for mail and phone scams

COVINGTON -- When Covington resident Helen Harris received a letter through the mail from an Illinois company notifying her they would send a certified copy of her property deed for $60, she knew something was amiss.

"I was shocked anybody would pay $60 for a certified deed," Harris said.

Suspicious, Harris called the Newton County Clerk's Office and found out that the letter was a scam designed to bilk money out of people who didn't know what she did: A certified copy of a property deed can be obtained at the Clerk's Office for just $2.50, with a 50-cent charge for each additional copy.

"That's a massive profit for somebody," Harris said.

Clerk of Courts Linda Hays said several similar letters have been brought into her office by property owners questioning their validity.

Hays said that while those responsible are not committing a crime, they are taking advantage of people.

"It's not illegal, but it's immoral. If someone wants a certified copy, all they have to do is come to the Clerk's Office," she said. "This is something that is public record. They don't need somebody to get a certified copy for them. It's something somebody came up with to make some money."

Harris has e-mailed her neighbors and friends to warn them not to fall victim and said the public at large also needs to be aware.

Her advice for anyone who receives a similar letter?

"Investigate. We know (the deeds) come from the county, so the smart thing to do is to contact the county to see what they really cost," she said.

Another more serious scam involving the court system has also been circulating through several states.

Scammers trying to commit identity theft have been contacting people and telling them they failed to report for jury duty. They then ask for personal information for "verification" purposes, such as Social Security number, birth date, bank account number or credit card information. If they are refused, they threaten to issue a warrant for the victim's arrest.

The scam has been reported in Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington state thus far. There are no reports of it happening in Georgia, but Hays said her office wants to get the word out so people can be on guard.

"A lot of people are intimidated by that and they give their private information," she said.

The Clerk's Office will call people who don't show up for jury duty or to notify jurors of a time or date change for their summons, she said, but her staff will not ask for anything more than an address or additional phone number.

"We will call and identify ourselves as employees of the Clerk's Office and give information on a new time or cancellation. Nobody will ever be asked for any information that anyone else could take and misuse," she said.

Hays urged anyone who receives a letter or phone call they find suspicious to call the Clerk's Office at 770-784-2035 to verify if it originated there.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations is also asking the public to report phone calls regarding jury duty that could be attempts at identity theft by contacting the Atlanta Bureau at 404-679-9000 or by e-mail at fbi.atlanta@ic.fbi.gov.