As the economy sank into the muck over the last few years, a lot of homeowners have missed or been late with property tax payments. And in some cases, the property will be sold in order to recoup those taxes. But there are unsavory types out there looking to take advantage of homeowners’ uncertainty about their tax situation.
In the Chicago area, thousands of homeowners have received letters declaring that their property has been sold for non-payment of taxes — but that, for a price, the company sending the letters can help you set things right.
Problem is, this is simply not true for most of the people receiving these letters.
“As you probably know your property was sold at public auction in August 2009 by the cook County Treasurer’s Office to an investor called a tax buyer,” reads one letter shown to CBS Chicago.
Asks the recipient, who admits to having paid his property taxes late, but within the time period to avoid the sale, “How can you not freak out and worry about losing your house?”
“This is either fraud or at the very least negligent infliction of emotional distress,” says his lawyer, who confirmed with the county that no sale had taken place.
According to CBS, the company — whose mailing address is a mailbox at a UPS Store — used a list of more than 60,000 tax delinquent properties were potentially up for sale because of non-payment of 2007 taxes. However, more than 40,000 of these homeowners paid the delinquent taxes before the deadline.
The company’s owner tells CBS that it got the list via a Freedom of Information Act request and only intended to reach out to people whose property had actually been sold at auction.
“I apologize if there was a mix-up,” he says. “There was never any intention of scaring people.”
But even for those people who received the letter and whose homes were sold in the auction, all that is needed to get your property back is to pay the back taxes, interest and fees within 2.5 years. There is no need to pay someone to help you or to sign your home over to someone else.
“If you have questions, don’t be sold a bill of goods from some letter from someone you don’t know,” County Clerk David Orr tells CBS.