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— Some residents became alarmed when they received letters informing them that their property taxes were due and that Benton County would sell their houses if the taxes were not paid by Aug. 27.

Red flags were raised upon the realization that Arkansas property taxes are not due until Oct. 10 each year.

The letters, which arrive in plain envelopes addressed to "homeowner," did not originate from any county office, Benton County Judge Dave Bisbee said.

Last Wednesday, Bisbee's office became aware of the letters after a member of his staff received one. After several more letters showed up in mailboxes, the judge's officeturned the matter over to the Benton County Sheriff 's Office, Bisbee said.

"We do not know what it is about, but we know it is a scam," Bisbee said.

County Tax Collector Gloria Peterson has received several phone calls from concerned citizens.

"I have never sent out a letter like that," Peterson said.

The letter, which appears to be from a company named 1st and 2nd Mortgages, states that the company "can help you out of this situation and lend you the money you need to pay back your property taxes."

A call to the toll-free phone number listed on the letter directs callers to leave a message or to call the letter's author, Richard Hoffman, and offers his cell-phone number.

Hoffman could not answera Daily Record reporter's questions regarding how many letters he sent out to Benton County and was unaware that property taxes are not due in Arkansas until Oct. 10.

The only information Hoffman offered is that he is prepared to make loans for those who need help paying.

"If you are behind on your property taxes, what I can do is give you a loan and help you pay your taxes," Hoffman said.

Hoffman promptly hung up when told a loan was not needed.

A quick Google search of Hoffman's Alberta, Canada, cell-phone number provides several search results asking people interested in cell phones, PDAs, iPods and 24-foot-long cargo trailers to call Richard on his cell phone.

Community, Pages 3 on 08/12/2009

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