(Oct. 3, 2014) Following a bizarre series of events, the community is urging caution after local real estate agents found what they believe to be suspicious stickers on the garage doors of several homes.
The stickers, placed in hard-to-see spots by Florida-based firm Mortgage Contracting Services LLC, state that the property “has been determined to be vacant and abandoned” and warns, “This property may have its locks replaced and/or plumbing systems winterized within the next few days.”
Ocean Pines Association Board Director Sharyn O’Hare warned the community of the stickers during a meeting on Saturday, Sept. 27.
“There’s a scam going on in Ocean Pines,” she said. “They place stickers on the bottom of your garage door in a very inconspicuous place on a home they assume is vacant. And they say, ‘If this home is not vacant, please call this 800 number.’”
O’Hare said the real estate company she works for, Prudential PenFed, reported the situation to local authorities.
“What I would suggest is, please, we all have neighbors who aren’t here year-round,” she said. “Keep a lookout for those homes and see if you don’t see those funny little signs. It’s a major scam. They’re changing the locks and then they have a way into the house. It’s something we all need to be aware of and the police are aware.”
Doug Galloway, an agent who works with O’Hare at Prudential, was the first to discover a sticker on a company sales listing after receiving a phone call from a locksmith who was contacted by MCS. The locksmith became suspicious when he saw a Prudential brochure box in the yard.
“The people who were changing the locks called and said, ‘Is this house vacant?’ And we said, ‘No, we’re settling tomorrow,’” O’Hare said.
Meanwhile, Galloway called the 800 telephone number and spoke to an MCS representative named Ryan Hicks.
“They weren’t very professional and they were obviously not concerned about it at all,” he said. “They basically said, ‘We don’t need you (that property), we have 2,700 other ones to deal with in Ocean Pines and Worcester County.’ Then they just hung up on us. That’s when we said, ‘Okay, something’s not right here.’”
That prompted Prudential Manager Claire McLaughlin to call the police.
“They’re just trying to find out if a house is going to foreclosure or possibly even if the house is vacant, but it is a scam,” she said.
“I can tell you as a real estate agent that if I was putting a notice on a door that a property was vacant or going into foreclosure, I would put it on the front door, not the lower right hand of the garage door,” McLaughlin continued. “The company may be (legitimate), but I don’t know if this particular branch is. Banks just can’t say, ‘Well, I think the property is vacant, we’re going to change the locks on it.’”
McLaughlin took the information she had to the Ocean Pines Police Department, which researched the situation online and determined that something was amiss.
“If you’ve seen a foreclosure notice or a notice put by a mortgage company, it doesn’t look like this,” she said.
“All the agents in this office were told to be careful with this,” O’Hare said. “It happened to one of our people the day before settlement. They were having their lock changed, and the people changing the lock were smart enough to see the brochure box and call the agent. Somewhere something’s not right, because this home was not in foreclosure.”
O’Hare called the claim that MCS had 2,700 other foreclosed homes in the area “ludicrous.”
“All of my advice is just keep an eye on your neighbor’s home,” she said. “If you see something posted and you know they’re not there, just call the police.”
Galloway said he was unaware how many homes faced foreclosure in the area, but said there it could not be as high as 2,700.
“I think the guy was trying to blow smoke or scare me or something,” he said.
“There are not 2,700 foreclosures between here and Berlin, I can guarantee that,” she said.
MCS would not return calls for a comment, although Amy Hunt, an agent for Androvett Legal Media and Marketing, provided a statement on its behalf.
“Mortgage Contracting Services is a nationwide provider of property preservation on behalf of some of the largest and most respected banks and mortgage servicers in the country,” the statement read. “For almost 30 years, our company has operated in a highly regulated environment – complying with a rigorous system of local, state and federal housing and banking regulations – and has maintained the highest standards of professionalism. If a homeowner feels an MCS sticker has been placed on their home in error, we would encourage them to call the phone number on the sticker and speak to one of our customer service representatives.”
Ocean Pines Chief of Police David Massey called the incident “weird” and said he did not know origin of the stickers.
“Are those homes that they’re putting them on in fact foreclosures?” he asked. “Are they adhering to what they’re saying? That would be my next question.
“Maybe these are legitimate foreclosures,” Massey continued. “I would have to know about which individual property and is it in foreclosure. It could be legitimate, it’s just something new that no one was aware of. I would have hoped they would at least let some local companies know they’re doing this.”
Massey asked Ocean Pines residents to report to his department anyone seen placing the stickers.
“If someone is doing that, we would want to identify them and find out what their legal business is in doing it, if they’re not trespassing on the property,” he said.