Tuesday, January 12, 1999

Direct-mail scam
targets consumers
hoping to save
on property taxes

By Rod Ohira


A property-tax savings scam is being repeated in Hawaii at a time when true tax assessments are being mailed out to residents.

The direct-mail solicitation from "Tax Reduction Processing" which is accompanied by authentic-looking forms is designed to confuse the taxpayer, says Better Business Bureau Hawaii President Anne Deschene.

The deadline for Hawaii residential tax assessment appeals is Friday.

"We've had 415 inquiries and protests in the last couple of weeks," said Deschene, adding that the state Office of Consumer Protection and U.S. Postal Service are also investigating the scam.

"Tax Reduction Processing" has not responded to the bureau's request for clarification and information, Deschene said.

"We've left messages on an answering machine but no one ever calls back" she added.

For a $75 fee, the company is offering to assist taxpayers in preparing an appeal on the current taxable value of their property.

The company includes property tax reduction forms which look like ones issued by the government.

"Since October, we've seen three different versions," Deschene said. "The first one didn't say it wasn't a government document.

"The second one, mailed out around Christmas, does say it but the print is so small that no one will notice. The third looks different and has a different address."

In a Star-Bulletin story last September alerting taxpayers about the scam, the Office of Consumer Protection reported that it had tracked Honolulu addresses on the mailing list to a mail-forwarding service that a Las Vegas company obtained in August.

Deschene says the local Better Business Bureau has been in contact with the Santa Ana, Calif., office which is investigating a similar scam.

Maui and Big Island residents have been targeted in the most recent mailings, Deschene said.

Deschene advises residents who receive mailers to call the Better Business Bureau at 536-6956 or 1-877-222-6551 toll-free from the neighbor islands.

Residents can also contact the Office on Consumer Protection on Oahu (586-2636), Maui (984-8244) or the Big Island (974-6230).

E-mail to City Desk

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