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Rip-Off Alert: Property tax fears fuel scammers' lure

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Updated: 4/01/2013 6:23 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3) -- As the economy improves, property prices are rebounding -- and so are property taxes. Most municipalities mail tax assessments each spring.

In this Rip-Off Alert, the Better Business Bureau informs us that scammers are often close behind, posing as government programs that claim to lower your taxes for a fee.

How the Scam Works:

You get a letter in the mail that appears to comes from a government agency. It's really a private business, and it promises to get your property taxes reduced by disputing your tax assessment. For this, the business charges 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 over taxed 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. However, in most cases, the business is simply doing something homeowners can do themselves for free.

Finally, some scammers use filing a property tax assessment dispute as an pretense to collect personal information for use in identity theft.

Ways to Spot a Property Assessment Scam:

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. Learn more about this scam here.
  • Asks for your Social Security number or other personal information.
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