Watch out for property tax scam letters

LOS ANGELES Earlier this year Eyewitness News did an investigative report about a property tax scam letter that was going out to just about every homeowner in the Southland. Shortly after that, the letters stopped.

But now they're back and this time the letters got enough attention to change state law.

"This is a fraudulent letter. It's fake. Please don't send any money," said State Assemblymember Ted Lieu.

Lieu is warning homeowners not to be taken by a property tax scam.

On the steps of the Hall of Administration in downtown Los Angeles, Lieu, along with L.A. County Tax Assessor Rick Auerbach and others, tried to get the word out that what looks like a real document from the Tax Assessor's Office wanting to lower your tax bill is anything but real.

"For the last year, over a year now, my office has been flooded by tax payers either calling, coming in and questioning or complaining about these letters," said Auerbach.

In fact, while the news conference was being held, an Echo Park homeowner came up with one of the letters saying he was there to check on its authenticity.

Fraudulent letters look very similar to the real property tax bills, carrying an official look. And believe it or not, these scam letters are not illegal. But that is about to change.

"After January 1st these companies will no longer be able to send out fraudulent and misleading letters," said Lieu.

A new law has been passed changing the way these letters can be written.

"They can't make it look like an official government letter. They can't say they're affiliated with a tax assessor, they can't use the word tax in it and they have to put in really big bold letters, 'This letter has nothing to do with the government or is affiliated with the government,'" explained Lieu.

And even if the scammers change the letters, they will be barred from charging an upfront fee.

Also, the L.A. County Tax Assessor's Office will never send you a letter requesting any fees other than your property taxes. And, if you want to lower your property tax bill, you can do it yourself for free. You don't need the help of others, especially those who want to charge you for the service.

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