Reporting Pam Zekman
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CHICAGO (CBS) — Thousands of people are getting letters saying their home was sold for non-payment of property taxes — when it’s just not true.
Now, county officials are concerned some homeowners may be scammed into paying for services to correct a property tax problem they don’t have.
David Dantzer was stunned when he got the letter from Tax Deed Stoppers and called the 2 Investigators.
The letter read: “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.”
“I didn’t know what to do,” Dantzer says. “How can you not freak out and worry about losing your house?”
His attorney, Gene Berkes, made a quick call to the Cook County Clerk’s office.
“They said nothing was sold,” Berkes says.
Dantzer had paid his property taxes late, but well within the deadline to avoid a tax sale.
“This is either fraud or at the very least negligent infliction of emotional distress,” Berkes says.
As for Dantzer, he got mad and called the 2 Investigators.
CBS 2 tried to trace the letter by checking the return address used by Tax Deed Stoppers on its mailings. It turned out to be a mailbox at a UPS store in Palos Park.
Zekman later checked out the complaints of a half-dozen other people who complained to CBS 2 and the Cook County Clerk’s Office.
In each case, the property owners had paid their taxes late, but before the tax sale.
Tax Deed Stoppers apparently has used a list of more than 60,000 tax delinquent properties that could be sold for non-payment of 2007 taxes. But before the 2009 sale, more than 40,000 homeowners had paid up, like Dantzer.
Even if your home is sold for back taxes, you have 2 1/2 years to go to the clerk’s office to redeem it by paying the back taxes, interest and fees. And you don’t have to pay anyone, including Tax Deed Stoppers, to do it for you.
“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 says.
The clerk’s office can check your tax payment status on their computers.
Tom Costello, the operator of Tax Deed Stoppers, insists the mailing list he used was for properties actually sold for taxes. He said he got the list by filing a Freedom of Information request with the Cook County Treasurer’s Office.
“I apologize if there was a mix-up,” Costello says. “There was never any intention of scaring people.”
He added there was “no intent to deceive here.”
Costello described himself as a “private investor” who has helped people who did not know their homes were sold for taxes.
He says he does not charge a fee for his help, adding “sometimes they want to sell the property before they lose it” and that he offers the homeowners a “fair price.”
If you get his letter or others like it, and you don’t know if your property was actually sold for taxes, you can call the County Clerk’s office at (312)603-5645 or contact the clerk’s office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.