Disputing Property Taxes

July 1, 2011 21:48 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I received a letter from a private consultant offering to dispute my property taxes with the county. The value of my house has declined significantly in the last year and it is now worth much less than what the property tax bill shows.  Should I accept this offer? How do I know if it’s legitimate?

Consumer Ed says:

If you believe the board of assessors incorrectly calculated the value of your home, you can appeal the assessed value. You do not need a consultant to assist you. The time within which an appeal must be filed may vary from county to county.

The letter you received may or may not be legitimate. Many legitimate companies are currently sending out letters advertising their services in connection with tax appeals. However, new and different scams are discovered all the time, so be careful and thoroughly research the business or person who sent the letter to you.  For example, in 2010, Oregon property owners were flooded with fraudulent solicitations to send in $189 to get their property taxes lowered. The letters, which were made to look like official government documents, stated that due to the drop in property values, residents needed to file for a reassessment of their property taxes. The letters included a purported adjusted assessment and the amount of projected tax savings resulting from an appeal, provided the property owner signed an authorization and included a check for the company’s fee.  Similar letters were also sent to residents in California in late 2009.  Even though these property tax scams occurred in different states, it is important to be aware of them because this scam could start occurring here in Georgia.

There are various ways to discover whether a business or person is “legitimate”.  If a corporation sent the letter to you, you can look up its name on the Secretary of State’s website (www.sos.ga.gov) to see if it is an actual legal entity.  However, just because the corporation is a legal entity is no guarantee that it employs truthful and fair business practices.  If you think you may be interested in its services, you should ask the business to provide references from past customers and, if the company claims to be a member of any professional organizations, you may want to contact the organizations to see whether the business is in good standing.  You can also visit the Better Business Bureau’s website (www.bbb.org) to see if anyone has submitted any complaints about the business. 

Two additional things to remember. First, avoid paying money to a business up front. There are many reputable companies who will not charge you in advance. In fact, some companies calculate their fee as a percentage of your first year’s tax savings, while others will bill you on an hourly basis and submit a detailed bill for the actual hours they have worked to pursue the appeal.  Second, never contract with a company that guarantees a tax reduction; no legitimate company would make such a promise.
If you are not confident that the business or person is legitimate, you may prefer to appeal your property taxes yourself.  In fact, even if the letter you received was from a legitimate business, appealing your property taxes yourself could cost substantially less than hiring someone to do it for you and should not take too much of your time. For information on how to appeal a property tax assessment, go to the Georgia Department of Revenue’s website at www.dor.ga.gov.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Rate This


Caller ID Spoofing

March 3, 2011 01:18 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I received a phone call from my gas company about a past due bill. I told them I was current on my account, but they threatened to shut off my service unless I paid the bill immediately by giving them my credit card information.  I was suspicious, but my caller ID indicated that the call was, in fact, from my gas provider. I said I would have to check my records and get back to them. When I called back, they said my account was paid up and that no one from the billing department had called me. What do you make of this?

Consumer Ed says:

You were a victim of “caller ID spoofing”. This is when a scammer accesses software that allows him to disguise his identity and phone number. When the person receives a call from the scammer, a legitimate company name and phone number will be displayed.  For example, a scammer may disguise himself as someone from your bank, auto warranty company, an attorney or law office, a lottery, or a state or federal agency. The scammer usually tries to get the caller to give out credit card, bank account information or a Social Security number over the phone. 

Unfortunately, this means consumers can no longer rely on Caller ID as proof or verification that you are dealing with a trusted source. To protect yourself from scammers using Caller ID spoofing, we suggest the following tips:

  • Be cautious. Do not give out personal information or financial information over the telephone.
  • Verify the identity of the caller:
    • Write down the phone number appearing on the Caller ID, hang up and redial the number to see where the call goes.
    • Call the company's official, published telephone number to verify that they actually called you.
  • Consumers who receive multiple calls from the same number may contact their telephone service provider and request that the number be blocked.
  • File a complaint with the FCC by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) or visiting esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm.

 

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Rate This


Payday Loan Scam

February 25, 2011 00:38 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I got a call from a man claiming to be with the State Investigation Department of California. He said he was calling to inform me of a lawsuit against me regarding a $500 payday loan that I supposedly took out and failed to repay. He said he would bring the paper work to my job and that my employer had the right under the law to know what I had done. I told him truthfully that I have never taken out a payday loan in my life. He said I could defend myself in court and that I would have to go to California to do so. The caller said if I wanted to avoid the lawsuit, I had to pay him the $500 immediately. I do not want to pay money I don’t owe, but I want the calls to stop and I’m worried that someone will actually show up at my office. What should I do?

Consumer Ed says:

The first thing to do is to find out whether the caller is with a legitimate law enforcement organization.  If you have access to the Internet, you can search “State Investigation Department of California.”  When we did that search, we discovered that no such organization exists. Instead, we found a list of links where consumers like you reported similar calls from the same people that turned out to be fraudulent. Based on this information, it appears as though the call you received is probably a scam. If not, you will be served with a copy of a written lawsuit and you can determine how you should proceed after you receive it.

It is understandable that you would worry about your employer being contacted.  If the call is a scam, as it appears to be, it is unlikely that anyone will contact your employer. However, just in case, you may want to let your employer know about the call and that they may be contacted by someone claiming to be with a law enforcement agency and saying that you owe money.

You were very wise not to give anyone money over the phone. As a general rule, you should never give payment information over the phone unless you have confirmed that the caller is really who he claims to be. To do that, you should look up the company and phone number in the yellow pages or call the number listed on your monthly bill or statement.

To get the caller to stop phoning you, ask him to send you proof of the payday loan in writing. If you are being threatened or harassed, get the caller’s name, company, address and phone number and file a complaint with the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection by calling 404-651-8600 or 1-800-869-1123 or by visiting consumer.ga.gov.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Rate This


Credit/Debt
nav_cap