Don't Fall for Scammers Who Ask for Money Using Notices That Mimic Your County Tax Bills
Scammers copy the design of your official county tax bills to create their own mailings in order to steal your hard-earned money
The next time you get a bill that looks like a county tax bill, take a closer look. If you're like most people, you'd pay the bill without thinking twice. But you might be spending your hard-earned money on worthless services sold by scammers who use mailings that look like official government tax notices. Before paying that bill, take a moment to make sure you know who is trying to get your money.
It Starts with the envelope
The scammers want you to think you're receiving a bill from your county government, so they make sure that the envelope you receive in the mail looks like official government correspondence. There is often a prominent warning on the envelope that reads "$2,000 fine, 5 years imprisonment, or both for any person interfering or obstructing with delivery of the letter U.S. mail TTT.18.CODE." It also reads "Final Notice – Please Open Immediately" in large highlighted print, leading anyone receiving it to believe that whatever is inside, potentially an outstanding bill, is extremely important and must be dealt with immediately. Only toward the bottom in smaller print might it say "not a government agency."
If you get any kind of envelope that looks like this, proceed with caution. It's a good sign that the company creating the mailing is trying to deceive you in some way.
Scammers use many return addresses
The return address on these mailings will typically be based in the county where your particular property is located, which is usually in the city where government services are based. If you live in Wake County, for instance, the address will be based in Raleigh. In any case, these scammers know that you'll be less likely to pay if the return address is from another county or even another state.
The first line of the return address might read "Record Retrieval Department," "Record Retrieval," "State Record Regulation Department," or "State Record Regulation Board." These names are intended to sound official, but scammers only want them to look like a government agency. The addresses themselves are often located on streets where many of the county government offices are located, but they are typically virtual addresses, which are offices that are rented only as often as needed. If you perform a web search for the address, you might find that the address is a rental company or even a post office.
letters are deceptive and confusing
When you open these mailings, you'll be presented with an official sounding name, such as "Deed Retrieval Services," along with bar codes and an official-looking Property ID number. The top of the letter very often prominently reads "Please detach coupon and mail with your payment." The letter, which looks strikingly similar to a county tax bill, often asks for a payment of around $100 or less for a copy of your home's current Grant Deed or other document that you can easily view free of charge online. The letter may go on to stress the importance of having such a document with a specific recommendation from the "State Record Regulation Department" to have one in-hand. In fact, no government agency makes this recommendation. Only buried deep in the fine print might is state that it does not come from a government agency.
The letter might say to return your payment in the enclosed envelope with your processing fee, which indicates that the payment you are sending is for the service and not for the document itself. Additionally, there may be warnings that a late fee will be due if the payment is not returned by a specific date, which creates the sense of urgency and further causes the victim to believe the bill is legitimate. Since you have not previously agreed to make a payment, there shouldn't be a 'late fee.' In some cases, you may only have a few days to make the payment from the time you receive the notice.
Simply overpriced payment for unnecessary service
This processing fee is simply a payment for an overpriced and unnecessary service. In reality, should you wish to obtain an official document, contact your county government directly. Most documents are available free of charge on the government website. If you want to get a copy of a document, it may only cost as little as 15 cents per page. Certified documents typically cost around $11.
It's an old ploy
We have seen multiple occurrences of this scam from various companies, many of which received F ratings from local Better Business Bureaus or that were banned from operating in certain states by State Attorneys General. Some of these companies have even been investigated and shut down by the United States Postal Inspection Service with our assistance.
Don't pay if you don't know the sender
When you receive a bill that looks like it could be from your county government, don't simply pay it without doing a little bit of checking. Why are you being billed? Does it sound like something you've been billed for before? When you do a search of the return address, does it come back to a government agency? Is the bill from a government agency or is it from something that sounds like a government agency?