Jefferson County last week began warning its residents of a company that has mailed “misleading” letters to homeowners advising them that their taxes are delinquent and offering to “go over some solutions” with them.
“The Jefferson County Treasurer never uses a third-party company to collect delinquent taxes, and all tax liens and mailings regarding the collection of taxes are originated through the Treasurer’s Office,” the county explained on its website.
However, despite the county's representation that the letter directs "the homeowner [to] pay their taxes through the private company," that claim is also misleading. The letter does not give that directive.
Vesper Properties LLC, whose address in the correspondence is a Post Office box in Mesa, Arizona, advises homeowners in the letter that “According to public records, your property is currently subject to delinquent property taxes.” In a sample letter the treasurer’s office provided, the listed address had $2,294.56 property taxes due, which aligned with a Redfin.com estimate of the home's tax bill for 2018.
“Our goal is to be able to work with you and and help alleviate some worries in this stressful time and put some cash in your pocket,” the letter continues.
Treasurer Jerry DiTullio said that his office has been checking on the property taxes of residents who have inquired after receiving the letter.
“We know that Vesper Properties is a real company,” he said, but the allegation of delinquent property taxes is “not true for 90% of these people that are coming in. Their taxes are current.
“It sounds like they’re targeting seniors, people that don’t have a mortgage escrow,” he added, speculating that Vesper Properties searched for houses where people have paid off their mortgages, who tend to be seniors.
DiTullio did not directly respond to whether the county's description of the letter was misleading, but said that he might talk to county staff about rephrasing.
On Monday, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser released statistics showing that consumer complaints about real estate sales and services amounted to 183 of the 9,819 total complaints in 2019 to his office. “Older Coloradans are more vulnerable to being preyed on,” he cautioned.
DiTullio said that Rep. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood, referred the letter to Weiser’s office. A spokesperson for the attorney general would not confirm or deny if there was an ongoing investigation.
"These are the kinds of letters my 72-year-old mother sends to me in a panic wondering what she needs to do," said Tipper, acknowledging that she suggested that Weiser look into the matter.
Colorado Politics called the number listed on the letter, which routed to a call center. The representative claimed no knowledge of Vesper Properties’ operations. He provided a number to the company. Answering a call to that number was an employee named Emily, who refused to provide her last name or title.
“We buy properties and we found that a lot of people who have back taxes are wanting to sell their properties because they’re upside down,” she explained. “We just pulled that list from the treasurer’s site and sent a letter. We don’t target anyone based on age. It’s just a list from the treasurer.”
DiTullio, when asked if that was possible, said that the information on property ownership was indeed public record. However, “I would say probably everybody that’s come in is not delinquent,” he countered. “So I don’t know where they’re getting the information.”
He added that the deadline for property taxes is June 15, and corrective measures begin to take effect in early fall for those who do not pay.
“The state of Colorado does not want anyone to lose their property,” DiTullio said. “You have three years to pay [the taxes] back. No one’s going to lose their property in September because they’re delinquent that one year.”
The Vesper Properties letter advised recipients that “We are not high-pressure investors; We don’t want to push you or make your life more difficult.” It went on to say, “time is off the essence in a situation such as this.”
Emily said that Vesper Properties, whose website advertises "fast cash" for homes, offers to buy properties and pay off the taxes. “Time is of the essence in that you always have to pay your taxes,” she said in justifying the phrasing. “We’re not going to be calling every day and knocking on your door. We just send a letter asking to buy your property.”
DiTullio was curious to know what Vesper Properties had told residents who received the letter but whose property taxes were not delinquent.
“We just say that the information pulled is directly from the treasurer's website, and that if they’ve taken care of those taxes, that’s between them and the treasurer,” Emily said. “We don’t keep track of who’s paid and who hasn’t based on that list. If they need help on knowing if they’ve paid their taxes, I’ve pulled up the treasurer’s site and looked up that property for them to see if they’re current or not.”
She added that she did not know when Jefferson County updated its records, but that she pulled records “exactly” as they appeared on the county’s website.
DiTullio declined to label the letter as fraudulent. He did, however, see parallels to other scams, such as callers who impersonate the Internal Revenue Service and place calls to victims saying that they owe money. Importantly for him, he worried that the letter implicated the county government in a private business's otherwise legitimate attempt to market themselves to new customers.
"What bothers me is my office being targeted," he said. "Saying 'we contacted the treasurer's office and got this information' to people. It's like, 'thanks a lot.' "