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Montgomery County officials warn property owners about letters

Montgomery County officials warned Thursday of a potential fresh scam involving official-looking mail sent by a private real estate group to property owners who are behind in tax payments.

“They are misleading property tax payers into thinking their land is about to be taken from them,” said Montgomery County Treasurer Russ Joseph. “It’s wrong of the Brewer Property Group to be threatening our taxpayers. And we are here today to insist that they stop misleading our residents.”

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As many as 2,000 property owners recently received cards with a Kettering post office box return address indicating their properties could potentially be transferred from them, officials said.

“We urgently need to speak with you about your property … and it’s (sic) potential transfer of ownership,” the card reads.

The wording on the card is troubling, said Montgomery County Auditor Karl Keith, who sat alongside Joseph and Brandon McClain, the county recorder, at a Thursday news conference.

“We (Montgomery County) transfer ownership of property after a valid, legitimate sale,” Keith said.

MORE: How Montgomery County is trying to prevent people from literally having their homes stolen

On April 25, about 10,000 official county letters went out to property owners with taxes past due, Joseph said. Those properties are eligible for a tax lien certificate sale in November if property taxes aren’t paid in full or the owner enters a payment plan by May 31.

“We just don’t want there to be confusion,” Joseph said. “We’re not taking anyone’s property.”

The cards are likely legal and the officials have no plans to refer the issue to the county prosecutor.

“It may not rise to that level of fraud or criminal penalty,” said McClain. “But it does obviously deceive; it does create a certain appearance.”

Multiple phone calls to numbers given for Brewer Property Group were not returned in time for this story. One message was left following a three-minute-plus recording at the number listed on the postcard.

“I know that the postcard may have seemed a little strange,” a voice on the recording begins.

The message says the man is a real estate investor looking to make quick-closing, cash deals on houses as-is.

“When you sell to me I’ll explain everything in clear and easy understandable terms and handle all of the paperwork,” the recording continues. “However, of course you will have everything in advance so you can have enough time to review it and make sure that you feel comfortable with everything.”

Joseph encourages those in tax arrears to contact his office before they potentially fall prey to any offer.

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“If they haven’t paid their taxes they are probably having financial issues. There’s reasons why that hasn’t been done and that may be a tempting as a way out if there are no other options,” he said. “We’re concerned about that.”

A similar postcard hit Linda Murphy’s mailbox Thursday claiming to be a “third notice” for a cash purchase of property she owns.

“I get these routinely,” said Murphy, who’s not behind in taxes but suspects she gets the postcards due to having several rental houses in a family holding company.

The card Murphy received Thursday said it was urgent she call and that the sender had tried for hours to reach her by phone.

“This is pretty strong verbiage,” Murphy said, “They’re deceptive not to me, because I know better.”

McClain said some older citizens, however, could be more vulnerable to a postcard’s message.

“They may think something’s happened to their property or something wasn’t paid or something wasn’t received,” he said. “It really alarms me.”

After instances when property deeds were fraudulently transferred from under rightful owners, the recorder’s office implemented an alert system last year.

The Fraud Alert Notification System (FANS) sends out an email notification if changes are made to real estate records. Surprise changes to deeds, liens and mortgages could indicate someone trying to fraudulently take control of another’s property, McClain said.

FANS also allows family members to keep tabs on the home of an aging loved one and out-of-state owners to monitor multiple properties. The service can be accessed at the Montgomery County Recorder’s website, www.mcrecorder.org.

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