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— Some county 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.

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

The letter, dated July 22, read: "Dear Property Owner, You owe the County of Benton for your property taxes. If you do not pay them by August 27,2009, the County of Benton will sell your house. 1st and 2nd Mortgages can help you out of this situation and lend you the money you need to pay back your property taxes. Please give us a call toll free at 1-866-405-1228."

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 office turned 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 ascam," 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 call the letter's author, Richard Hoffman, and offers his Alberta, Canada, cell-phone number.

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

TheonlyinformationHoffman offered is that he is prepared to make loans for those who need help in paying their taxes.

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

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

News, Pages 5 on 08/12/2009

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