First-time homebuyers are target of scam

MARSHALL CO. — County Auditor Penny Lukenbill recently warned the public of a scam seemingly targeting first-time homebuyers.
In the past few weeks, some new homeowners in Marshall County have received a letter from a Washington, D.C. company asking them to pay an $83 fee for a copy of their property deed.
“A lot of people are falling for this…it’s just another attempt to scam the public,” said Lukenbill to county commissioners in their regularly scheduled meeting Monday.
Property deeds — which are public record — are available for $1 a page at the county recorder’s office, and the typical deed is only two pages long. A copy of the deed is also included in paperwork received from a title company when purchasing the home.
County recorder Marlene Mahler said that new homeowners are at risk because they may not be aware the letter is not an official document.
“(The company) is looking for first-time homeowners because they don’t know what they are doing,” said Mahler. “(The letter) looks official. If you read the small print it says that it is not a bill, it’s a solicitation. But people tend to not read the small print.”
The letter is emblazoned with the words “Deed Processing Notice” along with a due date and a threatened late fee of $35.
The bottom of the letter reads “Secured Document is not affiliated with the county in which your deed is filed in, nor affiliated with any government agencies…you are under no obligation to pay the amount stated, unless you accept this offer.”
Mahler said that she’s called the company and asked them to stop sending the letter to residents of Marshall County.
“But it’s not illegal, so they can do what they want,” said Mahler. “The only thing we can do is make sure people know they don’t have to (pay the fee).”
Mahler said that according to other county recorders she spoke with at a seminar last week, this type of situation is happening all over the state of Indiana.
“This same letter came out of California about six months ago, and now it’s started again — from Washington D.C. this time,” said Mahler.
If you’ve received a letter like this, Mahler said the best thing to do is ignore it. If you are interested in getting a copy of your property deed, visit the county recorder’s office, located on the second floor of the Marshall County Building. With questions or concerns, contact Mahler at 574-935-8515.
Mahler also mentioned that homeowners concerned about property fraud can sign up for a free service called property fraud alert. This service notifies homeowners by phone or e-mail any time an action is taken on their property at the recorder’s office. For more about how to subscribe, visit www.propertyfraudalert.com, call the hotline at 1-800-728-3858, or call the recorder’s office at 574-935-8515.