If you are like me, you recently received your county tax assessment, giving you an idea of whether your property taxes will increase.
Most counties mail tax assessments each spring. Scammers are often close behind, posing as government programs that claim to be able to lower your taxes — for a fee.
Here is how the scheme works. You get a letter in the mail that appears to come from a government agency with names that include “tax adjusters” or “tax reassessment.” It’s really a non-governmental business, and it promises to get your property taxes reduced by disputing your tax assessment. For this, the business charges anywhere from $30 to hundreds of dollars.
A typical letter reads:
“The XYZ County tax authorities may have made an error when they recently assessed your property. The mistake means you may be overtaxed by $2,000. For 10 minutes and a one-time fee of less than $100, it’s well worth the potential savings of $2,000.”
As always, several variations of the scam exist. Sometimes, scammers simply pocket the fee. Other times, it’s more a case of misleading advertising. The businesses file the paperwork on your behalf and/or provide you with a government report. In most cases, however, the business is simply doing something that homeowners can do themselves for free.
Finally, some scammers use filing a property tax assessment dispute as a pretense to collect personal information for use in identity theft.
Reputable businesses are available to help you dispute your tax assessment, but watch out for the following warning signs. It may be a scam if the business:
▪ Poses as a government agency;
▪ Requires an upfront fee instead of billing you after the service is rendered;
▪ Guarantees it can lower your property assessment and/or taxes. You can file a dispute, but the local government needs to approve it;
▪ Requests a certified copy of your property deed and charges you more than a few dollars for it;
▪ Asks for your Social Security number or other personal information.
Scam artists look for opportunities to generate money for themselves, and if they can create a sense of urgency or perceived savings for you, then they stand a much better chance of separating you from your hard-earned money. This is where a little education and always asking for more information can potentially save you from becoming a victim.