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County hails success of fraud-alert plan

Enrollment in free program notifies residents of liens

– At the Allen County recorder’s office, there are about 70 different types of documents that people record, from military records to mortgages, liens and property transfers.

Some, though few, are fraudulent.

In certain parts of the country, there have been explosions of fraudulent lien filings, mostly involving family members fighting over property, County Recorder John McGauley said.

As a safeguard, in January 2008 McGauley’s office put in place a fraud-alert system in which residents would be notified whenever any document was recorded that included their name.

McGauley said Allen County is one of the top in the nation, based on the number of property owners signed up for alerts, although the percentage of total property owners signed up is small.

“We were the first in Indiana to launch it,” McGauley said.

At first it cost $12.95 to sign up, but by the end of 2008 the county decided to absorb the $3,000 cost of the program and make it free to anyone who signed up to increase participation. People can sign up by going to the recorder’s website, calling the office or visiting in person.

When someone’s name appears on a document that has been recorded, that person is notified by telephone or email.

The system has worked well, McGauley said. “If someone records a lien against your property, we notify you.”

A lien might not be unexpected, if, for example, you have just refinanced a property. But anyone can record a lien against a piece of property claiming that the property owner owes them money. With the lien in place, a property owner cannot sell the property, borrow against it or refinance it. No proof is required to record a lien and there is no penalty even if the lien is fraudulent.

Few fraudulent liens have been filed in Allen County, McGauley said. One lien for $982 million was filed this year on a Fort Wayne home worth about $100,000, McGauley said. With the alert system, if a lien is recorded and it is fraudulent, “It gives you much faster notice. It lets you intercede quickly,” which can involved hiring a lawyer, McGauley said.

Today, 20 to 30 of Indiana’s 92 counties have a similar notification system.

In Allen County, about 10,000 property owners, or perhaps 5 percent, have signed up for the fraud alert. McGauley regards that as a tiny percentage. In the United States, McGauley says, only Winnebago County, Wis., with a population of 170,000, is as active. Officials there said about 3,500 people have signed up for the fraud alert.

McGauley promotes the service and tries to sign up people when they come into his office on business.

The office also allows people to sign up online at www.allencountyrecorder.us, or by calling 449-7165.

Scott Moore, vice president of sales and marketing for Fidlar Technology, writes the software that the recorder’s office uses in the alert system.

“When we first started, we were the first vendor to have such a system,” Moore said. “When we started, property fraud was the fastest-growing white-collar crime in America,” he said.

The growth rate for that type of fraud has tapered off, Moore said, but it is drawing more attention around the country as people file fraudulent liens in bulk in some cities, often for hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Everybody should sign up for it,” Moore said. “It doesn’t cost a dime. If you have a parent or older sibling you should sign up in their name.”

Pone Vongphachanh, public affairs officer for Upstate Association of Realtors, based in Fort Wayne, said she promotes the fraud-alert service and says all real estate agents should encourage their clients, whether they are buying or selling a property, to sign up for the service.

“I wish every county had it,” Vongphachanh said.

Debra Miller, a Fort Wayne homeowner, is one of the majority who haven’t signed up for the alerts, and she was unaware that people can record fraudulent liens.

She said she was skeptical of the program but concluded that it was at least worth checking out.

“There’s so much outrageous stuff going on, sometimes stuff just falls on top of your head,” she said.

fgray@jg.net

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