Sacto 9-1-1
April 21, 2009
Grandma phone scam, property tax 'fee' return

Grandma phone scam, property tax 'fee' back again

Bee Staff

Two familiar scams - the property tax service 'fee' and the emergency phone call to a grandparent - have resurfaced in the Sacramento area recently, according to callers to The Bee.

In the former, property owners in El Dorado County are reporting a new wave of letters that say the letter recipient will be hit with a "late fee" if he or she doesn't respond to an offer to file documents asking that their property be reassessed. The property owner also must pay for filing the documents. The property owner is directed to send money to a Los Angeles post office box.

The property owner can request a reassessment directly from the county tax assessor and it doesn't cost a dime, assessors in the Sacramento area report. The offer in the letter may be legal but assessors say it is misleading at the very least.

In the phone scam, a grandparent receives a frantic late-night phone call from a grandchild who says he or she is in danger of being thrown in jail if they don't immediately get bail money.

The scammer directs the grandparent to wire money to an out-of-town address.

Below are two stories The Bee published this year on the scams:

Published Feb. 22, 2009

BOGUS BILL VOWS TO CUT TAX VALUES

By Stan Oklobdzija

stano@sacbee.com

These days, even fake bills come with late fees.

County assessors all over the Sacramento region are warning homeowners about a company trying to bill homeowners for something they already get for nothing.

And in some cases, the company is telling property owners they will be hit by a $30 fee if they are late to respond.

The deceptive offer makes the rounds whenever property values decline around the state, said Kathleen Kelleher, Sacramento County's assistant assessor.

"It's certainly misleading," Kelleher said. "The service they're providing for a fee can be done for free at the assessor's office."

Earlier this month, Vic De Stefani of Folsom received one such letter in the mail, saying that because of the recent housing slump, his home's value was now overassessed by about $150,000. Getting a reassessment on his home would save him about $2,000 in property taxes annually, the letter said.

All he'd need to do was mail $179 to a post office box in Los Angeles, the letter said.

But if he didn't send the letter in by Feb. 27, the service would cost another $30, it said.

"It's the second one I've got," said De Stefani, who bought his home in November. "The original one said that for $95 they could lower my taxes by $750 (annually)."

De Stefani said he was immediately skeptical, but decided to check out the company with county officials.

"I showed them the letter and they just laughed," he said.

Kelleher said her office won't begin considering new property values until June.

"We're in a period of time where it's too late for last year and too early for next year," she said. "We kind of question why there's any urgency to file."

Statements from assessor offices in Yolo, Placer and El Dorado counties warn of similar mailers making the rounds in their communities. Like Sacramento County, they offer their reassessment services for free and won't begin the reviews until this summer.

"The best thing property owners can do ... is to hold onto their $179," Placer County Assessor Kristen Spears advises on her office's Web site.

Yolo County Assessor Joel Butler calls the offer a scam on his office's Web site.

The company that mailed De Stefani the letter -- "Property Tax Reassessment" -- has been cited by numerous county assessor offices across the state as using deliberately deceptive mailers, according to news reports.

A person answering the phone at the toll-free number listed on one of their solicitations referred all questions to a company e-mail address. An e-mail for comment on this story was not returned.

Far from unusual, Property Tax Reassessment is one of 13 companies on a watch list compiled by the Sacramento County Office of the Assessor.

Kelleher said her office has seen this type of ruse whenever property values take a plunge.

"In the 90s ... we saw these crop up," she said. "They fell off when the market improved."

These companies have even attracted the attention of California Attorney General Jerry Brown, who referred to mailers such as these as a "blatant and costly scam," in a recent press release.

The attorney general's office advises anyone victimized by this type of operation to contact it.

De Stefani said he could see how people would get fleeced by the letters, but at 80 years old, he said he's learned some things.

"If anyone wants your money ahead of time, watch out!" he said.

January 28, 2009

'Grandma' phone scam targeting Redding area

From Niesha Lofing:

Over the past few months, several residents in the Redding area have received calls from scammers claiming to be a relative in trouble. The con artist asks the victim to send money to help, according to a Redding police news release.

There are several variations of the scam, but the most common one involves a late-night phone call from someone who starts the conversation by saying something similar to "Hi Grandma. Guess who this is?" the release states.

When the victim uses the name of one of their grandchildren, the caller pretends to be that person and asks for money.

In several cases, the scammer says they have been arrested and need bail money. The caller is always out of the area and needs money right away, the release states.

Victims are asked to send money through Western Union or MoneyGram. If they caller says they need money for bail, they say they have a friend who will pick up the money.

Sometimes the caller will put another person on the phone who claims to be a law enforcement officer or jailer.

The money is sent out of the country in the majority of the cases, the release states.

Redding police offer the following suggestions to avoid becoming a victim:

• If you get a call from someone saying "Guess who this is," respond with "I don't know. Who is it?"

• If the caller knows your name and the name of the person they are claiming to be, confirm their identity by asking personal questions like their birth date, mother's name and the name of the street where they lived as a child.

• If they say they are in jail or at a police station, ask which one and the phone number so you can call back. Use directory assistance or the Internet to confirm the phone number and call back if needed.

• Call the parents of the person they are claiming to be and confirm the caller's whereabouts.

Police also suggest using extreme caution when sending money by Western Union or MoneyGram.

On October 14, The Sacramento Bee will temporarily remove commenting from sacbee.com. While we design the upgrade, we encourage you to tell us what you like and don't like about commenting on sacbee.com and other websites. We've heard from hundreds of you already and we're listening. Please continue to add your thoughts and questions here. We also encourage you to write Letters to the Editor on this and other topics.



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