The recent launch of Lebanon County’s new Records Alert program couldn’t have come at a better time.
Although no cases of fraud are believed to have been reported in Lebanon County, there have been incidents of bad actors attempting to steal the deeds and therefore the properties of landowners in nearby Adams County, according to a published report in PennLive.
Realtors there have reported cases occurring over the summer, while other incidents have happened in nearby Chester and Delaware counties. (Adams and Lebanon share many things in common, including their designations as fifth-class counties based on population figures.)
“If people were to try and do it, then our program will alert you that it happened,” said Dawn Blauch, recorder of deeds for Lebanon County. “These kinds of things usually start in cities and then make their way to rural areas like Lebanon County. In Delaware County, 40 people were working together to rent properties to other people.”
The purpose of her office implementing LANDEX software is to allow property owners to register their holdings with her office. Then, when any record has been filed with her office on that holding via the property’s Uniform Parcel Identifier (UPI) number, an alert will be sent to the property owner notifying them of that action.
It’s important to note that only property owners who have registered their holdings via their UPI number will receive a notification from the Recorder of Deeds office in Lebanon County when an action occurs.
Developed by Lebanon-based Optical Storage Solutions Inc., individuals who own property in Lebanon County can register theirs for free via the recorder of deeds’ webpage.
A property owner’s UPI number can be researched two ways.
Via that office’s webpage, and it’s also printed on property tax bills distributed or collected by the county’s treasurer’s office as a GIS ID number. The GIS ID# is located immediately below the taxpayer’s name and mailing address, according to Sallie Nuein, administrator for the Lebanon County treasurer’s office.
Blauch said the decision to use LANDEX was based on the volume of enquiries her office receives from landowners who have learned through a television ad that individuals can subscribe to a similar service to protect their most valuable asset.
“A lot of them are calling to see if we have a program like this so they can be on top of what’s recorded to make sure that they don’t lose their property because that’s their concern,” said Blauch. “There’s a lot of commercials on TV trying to sell programs that basically do what we’re doing for free. Our system will notify you within 10 to 15 minutes after a filing has taken place.”
Blauch noted that if an alert is received, property owners should contact her office first — especially if they are confused by it. Since her office will not necessarily be aware that an alert has been sent, the onus is on the property owner to initiate a response to her office and with law authorities if the action is determined to be questionable.
“Then if they are sure that something should not have been recorded, especially if it is a deed that they know that they did not sign, then they will definitely want to contact the authorities,” said Blauch. “The faster you get that done, the better.”
Although there is always the potential that an alert may concern fraud, Blauch emphasized that most, which are sent by her office via text message or email, will be for a legitimate filing.
“I’m excited about this and happy we’re able to assist county residents with education, really, about the documents that have been filed on their properties,” said Blauch. “Most alerts will be legitimate.”
Blauch said the Records Alert program is predominantly an educational tool since most property owners don’t know the various ways a record may be filed on their holdings.
One of the more prominent ways is when a mortgage satisfaction piece occurs, meaning a property owner has satisfied their mortgage with their lender. Another is when one financial institution purchases a mortgage from a competitor, which will also trigger an alert to the property owner.
“We get phone calls about this all the time when people pay off their mortgages because they think we hold their deeds and we do not,” said Blauch. “They usually call asking for their deed. You actually get your deed when you purchase a property and a lot of people don’t realize that.”
Still, others involve the filing of subdivision, stormwater, and right-of-way plans that are filed with her office. Any of these actions will trigger an alert to the property owner.
Blauch said that about 40 property owners have registered theirs in the county’s Records Alert program. There are 56,094 properties in Lebanon County, according to the county’s assessment office.
“For me, it’s not just about getting alerted about fraud, it’s really about educating property owners,” said Blauch. “And bringing their attention to it.”
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