Berrien treasurer's office warns of scam letter

Document providedThis is a photo of the scam letter, provided by the Berrien County treasurer's department. The letter threatens property seizure for people behind on their taxes. Treasurer Bret Witkowski warns those who receive the letter not to call the number provided, and to report it to his office.

ST. JOSEPH — The Berrien County treasurer’s office is warning residents of a scam letter being sent out warning that their property could be seized for owing back taxes.

Treasurer Bret Witkowski was alerted to the bogus letter by a county resident who received the document in the mail, claiming to be from the Berrien County Office of Levys and Liens and threatening that “property seizure is imminent” if the person does not call the phone number provided.

“You are receiving this notice as a procedural warning of a foreclosure on your property by the State of Michigan,” the letter reads, providing a phone number to resolve the issue.

Witkowski said that there is no such thing as a county Office of Levys and Liens or an employee named Richard Herts, as the letter states. While his office does send letters alerting owners that they are behind on their taxes, they don’t say that the property is about to be seized, he said.

Even the phone area code, 866, is phony, he said.

But the scammers do make the letter look legitimate, Witkowski said.

“We pray that they’re not preying on people in bad situations,” the treasurer said. Right now 6 percent of Berrien County property owners are delinquent on their taxes.

The letter comes at the same time that the treasurer’s office puts out its listing of foreclosed properties, which Witkowski is worried could cause some people to panic and respond to the letter.

Someone who is sick or elderly and is behind on their taxes might call the number and provide bank account information, Witkowski said. But calling the phone number could ensnare them in further scams, he cautioned.

Berrien County forecloses on a property when the taxes are three years in arrears, and those parcels are sold at the land auctions. Notices are sent and signs are posted at the property alerting the owner that they owe taxes. Owners have the option of entering into a payment plan. The treasurer’s office has 863 properties in payment plans.

Witkowski said that a detective with the sheriff’s department is investigating the origin of the scam letter.

A resident who receives the letter should call the treasurer’s office at 983-7111, Ext. 8569.

Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak