County’s Consumer Protection Office Joins Better Business Bureau, U.S. Postal Inspectors to Shut Down Deceptive Mail Solicitations Sent to Maryland Homeowners

WASHINGTON, D.C. – July 22, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — The combined efforts of the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection (OCP), the Better Business Bureau serving Greater Maryland (BBB) and U.S. Postal Inspection Service-Washington Division have successfully stopped a company from continuing to mail deceptive letters soliciting Maryland homeowners to pay a fee to petition a review of their property taxes.

The mailings came from Maryland Property Review Board, a private company, but gave the impression it was from a state agency. The letters began reaching homeowners a month ago and advised recipients their property taxes were $1,346 higher than comparable homes and encouraged them to pay a filing fee of $99 to “reduce your Property Tax Bill.”

Maryland does not charge homeowners a fee to appeal property assessments. For more information about appealing property assessments, homeowners can go to the Maryland State Department of Assessment and Taxation website.

Because OCP and BBB representatives had received nearly 1,000 complaints from homeowners since the mailings began, they contacted the U.S. Postal Inspection Service-Washington Division. The Inspection Service immediately took action to investigate the mail-drop location in Cockeysville, MD, identified the operators of the deceptive marketing campaign and executed enforcement efforts to terminate the activity

“Our agency is committed to protecting residents from deceptive business acts,” said OCP Director Eric Friedman. “There’s no reason anyone should have to pay a $99 fee for something the state offers for free, and we’re pleased the interagency collaboration lead to a speedy resolve for consumers in Montgomery County and across the state.”

“Warning consumers about fraud and substandard marketplace behavior is key to the BBB mission, and stopping it is very gratifying,” said Angie Barnett, CEO, BBB serving Greater Maryland. “BBB will continue to share our data and investigations with Postal Inspectors and county government agencies to help shut down businesses that violate the trust of their customers through deception.”

In addition to stopping the mailings, Maryland Property Review Board has agreed to pay full refunds within seven days of receipt to any individual who paid its proposed $99 “property assessment appeals fee.”

Homeowners can request a refund directly from Maryland Property Review Board or through one of the following:

Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection
ATTN: MPRB Refund Request
100 Maryland Avenue, Suite 330,
Rockville, MD 20850-2322

U.S. Postal Inspection Service-Washington Division
ATTN: MPRB Refund Request
900 Brentwood Road, NE
Washington, DC 20066-7500

Better Business Bureau serving Greater Maryland
ATTN: MPRB Refund Request
502 S. Sharp Street, Suite 1200
Baltimore, MD 21201-2445

The OCP, BBB, or U.S. Postal Inspection Service-Washington Division, will ensure that refund requests reach Maryland Property Review Board.

“This case serves as yet another example of the significant results that can be achieved when law enforcement agencies and consumer advocate organizations share information and collaborate,” said David McGinnis, acting postal inspector in charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service – Washington Division. “Postal Inspectors are determined to protect America’s mail system from deceptive schemes and values its partnership with OCP and BBB that helps us achieve our goal.”

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OCP, the County’s consumer protection agency, investigates thousands of complaints each year involving automotive sales and repairs, new home purchases, home improvements, credit issues, retail sales, internet services and most other consumer transactions. OCP provides pre-purchase information to consumers, as well as speakers to the community on consumer issues. For more information and to check any merchant’s complaint record, call 240-777-3636 or visit OCP’s website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/consumer.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service. Its mission is to support and protect the U.S. Postal Service and its employees, infrastructure, and customers; enforce the laws that defend the nation’s mail system from illegal or dangerous use; and ensure public trust in the mail. The Washington Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service serves Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Consumers can learn more about the agency at: https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/.

BBB’s mission is to be the leader in advancing marketplace trust. We do this by setting standards for marketplace trust; encouraging and supporting best practices by engaging with and educating consumers and businesses; celebrating marketplace role models; calling out and addressing substandard marketplace behavior; and by creating a community of trustworthy businesses and charities. For more information, go to http://www.bbb.org/greater-maryland/.

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