Property Tax Scam Uses First-Class Mail

Homeowners are receiving official-looking letters by first-class mail saying they haven’t paid taxes yet. It’s big in Chicago now but appeared in Fla. a few years ago.

CHICAGO – Lake County (Illinois) Treasurer John Petalas urges taxpayers to be aware after multiple complaints have come in regarding fraudulent delinquent taxpayer notifications demanding payment. Petalas said the office has had three taxpayers this week come in with the letters to question the legitimacy because they had concerns about the amounts they allegedly owed.

The notifications are being sent to businesses and individuals via first class mail and are seeking payment for a specified amount. The 800 phone number in the letters is also active, but he warned the letters are not from the treasurer’s office.

Since the letters are sent by first class mail instead of through a telephone call, Petalas said he worries people may be more likely to fall victim.

“I am concerned someone will pay them,” Petalas said.

One letter obtained by the treasurer’s office was delivered to Humane Indiana in Munster. The header on the letter reads: “Tax Resolution Lake County Public Judgement Records” and provides an 800 phone number. The heading on the letter reads “Distraint Warrant” in bold type.

The letter demands payment of delinquent taxes to avoid collection proceedings that could include “garnishment of wages and bank accounts, property seizures, federal tax refund offset, and creation of a property lien.” The letters provide an amount due and a number to call.

Petalas and Ofelia Gregoline, executive assistant to the treasurer’s office, said these letters are a scam and encouraged taxpayers to call the office if they have questions about any correspondence seeking payment.

Fortunately, the taxpayers receiving the letters realized the fraud and did contact the office instead of making a payment. They fear not everyone will be so lucky.

Gregoline said the office has been in touch with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and has been instructed to advise people receiving the letters to file a fraud case at uspis.gov/report under the mail fraud header. The treasurer’s office cannot file the complaint. Only recipients of a letter can.

Andrew Brandsasse, postal inspector team leader with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said to his knowledge the USPS Detroit Division, which oversees Indiana and Michigan, has not received any complaints of related activity to the letter and has no active investigation into such.

“If a person or entity utilized the U.S. Mail in furtherance of a fraud scheme, however, that would be a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1341, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine upon conviction,” Brandsasse wrote in response to a list of emailed questions.

An informed public is essential to stopping these types of scams, he said.

“These complaints can be investigated and, if warranted, charges can be issued by the U.S. Attorney’s office or other relevant prosecutor’s office,” Brandsasse said.

He encouraged anyone receiving a letter to do their due diligence as they would with a scam phone call or internet listing. Instead of calling the phone number on the letter, recipients can conduct an internet search on the entity that supposedly sent the letter and use the contact information on the official website to verify the letter’s authenticity.

Often an internet search of the phone number or email provided in the letter will produce search results with scam warnings.

An internet search of the phone number provided in the letter turned up scam reports dating as far back as 2019. A search of news reports showed officials warning about a “Distraint Warrant” scam in Pennsylvania, New York and Florida.

“If the legitimacy of the letter cannot be immediately confirmed, do not be quick to part with your money, and never hesitate to file a report with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service or local law enforcement,” Brandsasse said.

Gregoline said the letters appear to target areas around the country in advance of when that area would be sending out its delinquent tax notices. Gregoline said the county’s demand notices will begin going out in July. The county has not mailed any letters seeking delinquent payments yet this cycle.

Gregoline said the letters also use terminology that appears intended to confuse the recipient, mixing language that would pertain to physical property taxes and personal property taxes.

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