If you get an official-looking letter from "Property Tax Adjusters" offering to get your assessment reduced — provided you send them a check for $189 — toss it with the rest of the junk mail.
It's a scam, says Jackson County Assessor Dan Ross.
"A couple of people have already fallen for it here," said Ross. "It's very official looking, almost like it was from a government agency. It even gives you a date the payment is due. This is the first mass mailing scam I've seen here in my 21 years as assessor."
Oregon Attorney General John Kroger has been getting complaints "in droves" — almost 1,000 this week alone — and has sent a "put on notice letter" to the sender, based in Granada Hills, Calif., said Department of Justice spokeswoman Kate Medema.
The notice lays out potential violations of the Oregon Unlawful Trade Practices Act, including the intention to mislead recipients into believing the sender "is an official entity when instead they're looking to profit," said Medema.
Kroger told the firm that its disclosure of not being a government agency is "very discreet and we question whether it's adequate in light of the public outcry," Medema said.
Kroger demanded a list of Oregonians who sent the $189 "fee" and intends to require a refund, she added.
Lt. Bob Hansen of the Medford Police Department confirmed a couple of property owners had taken the bait and sent checks, but "it just doesn't happen" that money is refunded, as promised by the scammers if property owners don't get results.
Property owners should be aware that the period for appealing assessments to the county Board of Property Tax Assessment is in the last quarter of the year, ending on Dec. 31, a fact that demonstrates the false nature of the offer, he said.
The county assessor's home page says the scam letter indicates values shown are for "Assessment Roll for 2010-2011 Tax Year" but these values don't get finalized till Sept. 25 and are certified by Oct. 25.
The scam letter says tax adjusters "will prepare and submit all necessary documents and act as your agent in all dealings with the county assessor's office" and if you don't qualify for a reduction, it will refund your "service fee."
"Don't be fooled. "¦ The mailers trick you into sending them money to lower your property taxes," said Kroger in a March 19 scam alert.
Kroger, whose Web site www.oregonattorneygeneral.gov offers scam alerts on Twitter (and at 877-877-9392), said property owners should distrust phony terms such as "2010 Property Tax Reduction Form" and "Regional Processing Center" in the letter.
"Don't pay money for something you didn't ask for," noted Kroger, and contact your assessor directly for adjustments.
The California Attorney General's Office put out a similar scam alert and last year sued senders of similar letters.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.