by Sheryl Reichert

Sheryl Reichert, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

Sheryl Reichert, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

Everyone wants lower property taxes. However, soon after receiving your property tax assessments in the mail, watch out. Scammers may be close behind, posing as government agencies.

They will guarantee to lower your property taxes by disputing your assessment for a fee. The truth is, in many cases, you can challenge your property assessment on your own, free of charge.

Often, the letter in the mail looks like it’s from a government office and it may use words such as “tax adjusters,” “tax readjustment” or “tax review.” It may even resemble a property tax bill.

The letter promises to reduce your property taxes by disputing your tax assessment. It may state the homeowner is paying too much in property taxes due to declining home values, and shows what the “adjusted” property value should be, which is a number lower than the current assessed value of the property.

A typical letter may read: “The local tax authorities may have made an error when they recently assessed your property. The mistake means you may be overtaxed by several thousands of dollars. For 10 minutes of your time and a one-time fee of less than $100, it’s well worth the potential savings of thousands of dollars.” The fee for the reassessment or adjustment can vary from a small flat fee to a percentage of the total projected tax savings.

However, the letter is actually from a private business that wants to empty your wallet. Not only do these companies misrepresent who they are, but they typically take the upfront fee and do nothing. These companies conveniently neglect to tell homeowners that they are not a government agency and that homeowners can file reassessments for themselves, on their own, at no cost.

Some companies may actually perform some work by filing a request for a property reassessment on your behalf. But, you can fill out the form yourself and file for a reassessment on your own, so it’s an unnecessary service. There’s no reason for anybody to pay for a service that is provided for free. The best defense is to toss the junk mail in the trash.

Timing is everything: scammers typically will time their pitches to coincide when property tax bills are mailed.

A related scam is an official-looking, “open immediately” letter asking a homeowner to pay several hundred dollars to obtain a certified copy of their property deed. What the misleading mailings don’t mention is that deeds are available for a few dollars or less.

As with most scams, the deed scam has several variations. Some of the letters look more like a bill, while some have an official-sounding name like “National Deed Service” or “Secured Document Company” or “Conveyance Transfer Services.” Others letters warn that an additional fee will be added to your property tax bill unless you comply.

The Better Business Bureau offers free educational information on how to be aware, informed and proactive so people can protect themselves against frauds and scams. For additional consumer protection information, visit www.bbb.org or contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB) by phoning (858) 637-6199 during regular business hours.

Sheryl Reichert
Sheryl Reichert