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Beware of property tax reassessment scams.

At least two of our clients have received official-looking letters offering to help change their property tax assessments for a fee. Luckily, they both realized in time that these were not really from a government agency. Now we hope everyone else catches on as quickly as they did.

In fact, informal property reassessment services are provided free of charge by local county assessors in California. We do not know of any reason to pay anybody for this service.

These property tax scam letters have started turning up in the San Francisco Bay Area after an extended run of similar letters in Southern California. Problems with such letters there have already led to a state Attorney General's Office lawsuit and the creation of a new state consumer protection law, AB 992.

One of the recent San Francisco scam letters is from something calling itself "Property Tax Adjusters." It offers, for a potentially refundable fee of $189, to help the owner of a house apply to the assessor's office to obtain a new property tax assessment for a possible resulting tax reduction. The return address is "Property Tax Adjusters, Regional Processing Center, 11856 Balboa Blvd Ste 281, Granada Hills, CA 91344." Commenters at this consumer protection site are reporting the same return address on other scam letters.

The California State Attorney General filed suit last May against a Southern California business accused of running a similar scam. The AG's Office press release announcing the lawsuit provides instructions on how to file complaints if a reassessment scam happens to you. [** See update below about contacting the SF DA as well.][***12/15/09 See further update below with new instructions for sending these letters to the AG's office.]

It's not clear if the people sending these notices to San Francisco are connected with the Southern California defendants, but one of the defendants named in the AG's office court complaint is alleged to use a "Suite 203" address at the same 11856 Balboa Blvd site in Granada Hills.

The San Francisco Assessor-Recorder's Office has posted a helpful question-and-answer list on the proper way to obtain a free informal review of a property tax assessment in San Francisco County. Homeowners in San Francisco will be allowed to request free informal reassessments from January 4, 2010 until March 31, 2010, and the request form will be posted on the Assessor-Recorder's Web site starting January 4.

A San Francisco Assessor-Recorder staff member said calls about the scam have been keeping her office busy since last week. She noted a reassessment will not necessarily result in a tax reduction; it might help people who have owned a property five or ten years, but people who have owned their houses for a very long time may be better off not making such a request.

The San Francisco office is especially aware of the scam because San Francisco Assessor Phil Ting himself received one of the letters. He told the Bay City News service, "They got my assessed value incorrect, and on top of that they offered me a proposed value that is absolutely not realistic at all."

[**Update: It looks like these letters made an earlier appearance in San Francisco in February, prompting a warning from the SF Assessor and Treasurer. They wrote: "Anyone receiving a suspicious solicitation should contact the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, Consumer Mediation Unit, at (415) 551-9595. You may also send in a copy of the notice you receive to the District Attorney’s Office c/o Consumer Mediation Unit at 732 Brannan Street,
San Francisco, CA 94103."]

[***Update: The AG's office would like to receive physical copies of any property tax solicitation letters of this type that people receive. Rather than use the online complaint form, they ask that people print out this form and mail it in to the "Public Inquiry Unit" address on the form, enclosing a copy of the solicitation letter and, if possible, the envelope the letter came in.]

 

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