Homeowners Be Wary of Homestead Exemption Offers

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Mailboxes of new homeowners are often flooded with letters from companies looking to cash in on things you might need, like lawn care services or cable. Included in all the mail solicitations could be a letter offering to register you for a homestead exemption – for a fee. Recently a warning about this solicitation was issued by the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

The official looking letter is titled, “Designation of Homestead Request Form” and its format looks similar to legitimate homestead exemption applications. Homeowners who receive it are instructed to complete the form and send it in along with a payment to file the exemption.

What appears to be a letter from an actual government agency is really a craftily designed solicitation. Homestead Recording Service is not a government agency, nor is it associated with any taxing authority.

To look even more legitimate, the reverse side of the form is filled with relevant text from the Texas Constitution and the Texas Property Code about homesteads. Scammers aren’t usually in the habit of quoting the law, so this seems to add to the credibility of the document. Also, instead of directly asking for money, like most sales letters, it instructs you to do the opposite. The form states, in all caps, “YOU MUST USE THIS FORM, OR WE WILL NOT PREPARE YOUR DOCUMENT.”

Buying a home can be costly, so it’s best to avoid unnecessary fees when you can. Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you receive this letter:

  • Don’t pay for something that is free. Filing for a homestead exemption is relatively easy and it is free. You can either go to your county Tax Assessor’s Office or file online.
  • Read each letter carefully. New homeowners will likely be inundated with mail. Look for disclaimers in the small print.
  • Don’t share personal information. Scammers often ask for sensitive information that could put you at risk for identity theft. Know who you share your information with.

To report a scam, go to www.bbb.org/scamtracker. It helps us stay informed on the latest scams affecting consumers and businesses.

Kelly Trevino is the regional director for the Corpus Christi/Victoria area of Better Business Bureau serving the Heart of Texas. Kelly is available for media interviews and speaking engagements. You can reach her by phone: (361) 945-7352 or email: ktrevino@corpuschristi.bbb.org.