The con artists who claimed to be “surveying” property as part of the ongoing Washington County reassessment are likely long gone, said Mt. Pleasant Township Police Chief Lou McQuillen, but in an effort to keep other residents from falling prey to scammers, officials associated with the legitimate undertaking offered what they hope is cautionary information.
The burglary of an elderly Hickory resident’s home took place Thursday afternoon when a man who identified himself as a surveyor lured her outside to discuss property boundaries while speaking on a walkie-talkie, presumably with an accomplice who stole about $650 in cash, coins and jewelry.
Wesley Graham, project supervisor for Tyler Technologies Inc., said the reassessment project, begun in September, is at a juncture that results in sending a number of data collectors to various parts of the county to double-check information in an attempt to iron out discrepancies that might exist between property owners’ and Tyler’s data mailers. For data quality control purposes, Tyler also plans to revisit neighborhoods.
Tyler Technologies and Robert Neil, reassessment project manager for Washington County, regularly disseminate a list through local media to inform the public where both commercial and residential data collection and imaging is beginning, but the verification phase means data collectors could be going hither and yon. Imaging also is being redone in spots where the process was interrupted by cloudbursts.
“On any given day, we have 15 data collectors in the field, but we could have up to 25 residential and commercial data collectors,” Graham said Monday, meaning there could be crews in neighborhoods other than those that were announced. Tyler Technologies, however, has not had boots on the ground in Mt. Pleasant Township.
The impostor who showed up in Mt. Pleasant Township was nicely dressed, but he lacked the chartreuse vest bearing a Tyler logo and the identification card that Tyler employees wear.
“No one working for Tyler is a surveyor,” Graham said Monday. “I’ve never asked a homeowner about a lot. I wouldn’t need to. I hate to say we would never ask about boundary lines.” It’s possible that this type of discussion might take place about farmland involving a large number of acres, but the reassessment data collector would have in hand a map with the property owner’s name.
Tyler employees don’t use walkie-talkies, although they carry personal cell phones for use in emergencies. They would not conduct an interview with a property owner while conversing with a third party, Graham said.
The photo IDs Tyler Technologies employees wear are made by the Washington County sheriff’s office. Tyler’s name is printed both above and below the photo, and it also bears the phone number 724-228-5019, which property owners can call to verify that the person works for Tyler. Graham said he knows of two homeowners who were suspicious of the true purpose of a visit and phoned to ascertain information.
People seem more likely to question the mission of the imaging van.
“With kids in the yards, people were suspicious of a slow-moving van driving through the neighborhood with a camera hanging out,” McQuillen said. “We probably fielded seven or eight calls.”
The description of the perpetrator in last week’s incident was “kind of vague,” McQuillen said. The impostor quickly left the home in Hickory behind the wheel of an older model white pickup truck, possibly manufactured in the early or mid-2000s.
Tyler provides communities with information about the presence of reassessment workers, vehicles and license plate numbers. Peters Township, for example, chose to place this information on its website with this notation: “The data collector will not enter homes unless there’s an unusual circumstance that the owner wishes the data collector to inspect (such as) mine subsidence (or) open foyer space. If the owner is home, they’ll ask some basic questions about the interior. They will also measure the exterior of the residence before departing.”
Mt. Pleasant requires door-to-door solicitors to obtain a permit from the township zoning officer, and as of Monday morning, there were no outstanding solicitation permits, McQuillen said.
The elderly are targets of this type of thief because they’re at home in the daytime and their neighbors tend to be out working, the police chief said. He asked those who have elderly neighbors to “keep an eye on them.”
If residents need to verify that reassessment work is being conducted in their area, they should call their municipality or Tyler Technologies at 724-228-5019, Neil reiterated.
“Hopefully, it won’t happen again,” Graham said of the circumstances surrounding the burglary. “No vest, no ID? I would not entertain talking to them at all.”