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District warns property owners about letter

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Posted: Wednesday, August 26, 2009 12:00 am

The Cameron Appraisal District issued a notice to taxpayers in Cameron County to be aware of a letter they could receive from a company that offers to file applications for homestead exemptions with the appraisal district for a $55 processing fee.

"Taxpayers can do it for free," Chief Appraiser Frutoso M. Gomez Jr. said Wednesday of applying for exemptions.

Gomez said that some taxpayers are confused and think that the company is associated with the appraisal district.

"The Cameron Appraisal District has been deluged with calls about the legitimacy of the announcement," Gomez said, adding that every appraisal district in the state offers the exemption applications for free.

A Chicago company called Property Tax Assessor Records Corp. is sending the letters.

"It appears that you are overpaying your property taxes," the letter states in bold type.

"This may be our only notice to you," the bold type wording further states in the letter, which points out that a recent review of tax records does not show that the taxpayer has secured an exemption to which the taxpayer should qualify.

The company’s Chief Operating Officer John Fife signs the letter.

"I don’t believe that any information in the letter is misleading," Fife said in a telephone interview from Chicago Wednesday.

Fife noted that the letter clearly states that the company is not affiliated with a government agency.

California’s San Diego Union-Tribune reported in July 2004 that the company had agreed to pay a $115,000 fine and take other steps in a settlement with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, which sued the company accusing it of misleading consumers into thinking that the mailers were sent by a government agency, not a private company.

According to the Union-Tribune, the company also agreed to note in its mailings that it is not affiliated with a government agency and to include its Chicago principal business address and a telephone number.

Fife said that his company has not been sued in any other state.

He said his company is authorized to do business in Texas, although the name of the corporation does not appear in state public records.

The company mailings in Cameron County only contain a post office box number in Austin and no telephone number.

Fife provided the toll-free number of 866-865-1419 for consumers who have any concerns, complaints, might have been confused, or want their money back.

"We have issued thousands of refunds," Fife said. "We want people to be happy."

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