Licking County Auditor Michael Smith is warning residents about being scammed into spending money for a service that's available for free.

Licking County Auditor Michael Smith is warning residents about being scammed into spending money for a service that's available for free.

He recently warned property owners to beware of companies offering to assist with valuation appeals.

ValueAppeal of Seattle is one of several companies mailing letters to area residents claiming they could be overpaying their taxes because "the county" value of their property might be in error.

"I have seen solicitations that say owners could be overpaying by thousands of dollars," Smith said.

He said some mailings offer what some companies term "a custom report," including one priced at $159. He said homeowners can do the research on their own and can file an appeal for no charge with the county board of revision. The board of revision is a three-member board which includes the county auditor, treasurer and a commissioner.

"We often advise homeowners to contact a Realtor who is active in their area for an independent opinion of their value as a first step," Smith said.

Property owners also can review recent sales of comparable properties on the auditor's website,

"The information is available and easy to access," Smith said. "Why pay some out-of-town company to provide what anyone can get at no cost?"

He said similar letters have been mailed to property owners in counties across the state.

Deputy Auditor Roy VanAtta said he is unaware of any other companies taking part in the scam.

"I did recently hear that in some areas of the state, there are attorneys who are promising to help property owners appeal their case but not following through at hearings, if there is one," he said.

"If you really feel the need for help, hire a good appraiser and have them appraise the property. File the appraisal with the complaint form."

VanAtta said the most practical way to accomplish an appeal is to do a little homework regarding similar properties and their current values and any similar home sales or listings.

"Bring those comparables in and we will be glad to help you complete a complaint form," he said. "All this will cost you is a little of your time."

Smith said no one can offer a "guarantee" or "a very high likelihood" of a value reduction.

"Promises of 'risk-free' filings are extremely misleading," he said. "Each case is considered on its merits and the (board of revision) can increase a value. Filing a (board of revision) complaint is the initiation of a legal proceeding.

"Potential filers are urged to carefully review the instructions we provide to best present their case."

Smith said the auditor's office completed a full reappraisal in 2011. The current values became effective with the first tax bill in 2012.

Owners who believe their property value is inaccurate should make sure the auditor's office receives their board of revision complaint forms no later than 4:30 p.m. April 1.

Complaint forms and instructions are available from the auditor's office or may be accessed on the auditor's website.