The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 7, 2013

Firm charges for filing what government does for free

By Joanne Arbogast
The Daily Item

SUNBURY — Judy G. recently received a notice from the Senior Advisory Center regarding a property tax/rent rebate. The letter included an application worksheet for her to fill out to see if she “qualified.”  

Along with the completed worksheet, she was instructed to send in a processing fee of $39 and file by Dec. 31.

“This looks like a scam,” the almost-72-year-old Selinsgrove resident said.

It is, and it isn’t. The Senior Advisory Center isn’t committing any crime, but it is charging money to perform a service that is offered free.

Vaguely insinuating it’s a government entity, which it is not, the Senior Advisory Center is reportedly based in California; its return address is a post office box in Harrisburg.

It has no connection to any senior centers. “Someone checked it out online and said it was a trucking company,” Judy added.

“There are plenty of disclaimers” in the notice, Judy said, but it still “looks official” and could “trick people into thinking it’s something they need to fill out.” She said she wasn’t the only one getting the notices. “My 85-year-old sister in Beavertown got one too.”

Pennsylvania’s rebate program benefits eligible residents 65 or older; widows and widowers 50 or older; and people with disabilities 18 or older. The income limit for eligibility is $35,000 a year for homeowners or $15,000 annually for renters, and half of Social Security income is excluded.

The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue’s website (www.revenue.state.pa.us) states it is “aware a company is contacting older Pennsylvanians by mail, offering to prepare Property Tax/Rent Rebate applications for a fee. While it’s unfortunate that a company is charging for a service that the government and other agencies provide for free, there appears to be nothing illegal about the offer.”

Under the department’s “frequently asked questions” is this:

“Does the department charge $39 or any other fee for Property Tax/Rent Rebate filing assistance?

“No. Property Tax/Rent Rebate application forms and assistance are available at no cost from Department of Revenue district offices, local Area Agencies on Aging, senior centers and state legislators’ offices.”

Last April, State Rep. Dan Deasy, D-Allegheny, was notified by one of his constituents of the notices. His office had assisted her the previous year, for free. Deasy contacted Attorney General Kathleen Kane, requesting a formal investigation.

Not only alarmed by the predatory solicitation, “of greater concern to me is how this outside company obtained her personal, private information and details on her rebate amount from a prior year,” he wrote in his letter to Kane.

Judy said she has never filled out this type of application before; that “my tax man takes care of all that.” She added that while the application does not ask for her Social Security number, there is an option to pay with a credit card, which could give the Senior Advisory Center access to more information than you want to share.

Be vigilant regarding any letters and emails you receive asking for money. If you think you have been the victim of a scam, contact your local district attorney, police and the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, Bureau of Consumer Protection, at (800) 441-2555. Seniors are encouraged to also notify the local Area Agency on Aging office.