PIN slamming can double property tax bills

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Friday, July 28, 2017
PIN slamming scam can double property tax bills
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What if your property tax bill doubled overnight? The I-Team is investigating what officials call "PIN Slamming."

ROBBINS, Ill. (WLS) -- What if your property tax bill doubled overnight? The I-Team is investigating what officials call "PIN Slamming."

A family in south suburban Robbins was shocked when they saw their property tax bill. Not only did they owe much more than they expected, they learned they unknowingly bought two plots of land, nearly doubling their tax bill. County leaders say they were victims of "PIN slamming."

"I was very excited," said Demetris Kelly who contacted the I-Team.

Demetris Kelly and her seven children were thrilled to move into their new home in Robbins in 2014, but then a shocker.

Jason Knowles: "So your house is in the middle of two lots.

Demetris Kelly: "Yes."

Knowles: "And you didn't know that?"

Kelly: "No."

Six months later, Kelly says she found out that her property straddled two lots and therefore had two property index numbers, or "PINs."

Then she discovered this: on that second PIN, Kelly owes $6,700 in back-taxes from 2014 and she will owe thousands more for other years.

Knowles: "Now you are paying taxes on two lots?"

Kelly: "I will be responsible for paying property taxes for two lots."

Kelly turned to the Recorder of Deeds Office and its fraud prevention expert Mario Reed for help.

Reed says Kelly is a victim of what he calls PIN slamming.

"PIN Slamming is when a seller specifically hides a PIN from the purchaser and then sells the property to them and then several months later drops the PIN on them or slams them with that additional PIN," said Mario Reed, Cook County Recorder of Deeds Office.

If Kelly doesn't pay the back-taxes, she could lose her home.

"What they did to me is really devastating, has really taken a toll on me because I'm afraid of losing my home," said Kelly when she contacted the I-Team.

Kelly has filed suit against Synergy the business that sold her the property. Synergy told the I-Team: "Because it's in litigation, we cannot respond. Both parties are working toward a resolution."

"There is a duty to disclose, that's part of any real-estate transaction, known as good faith negotiation, and in this instance they definitely knew that the PIN was there because they received it from the bank by virtue of a foreclosure," said Reed.

He says that because Synergy is a subsidiary of First Midwest Bank, which had previously foreclosed on Kelly's home under a previous owner.

Reed says Kelly isn't the only victim. He showed us documents that he says show that Synergy also sold a home to Kelly's neighbor, again declaring only one PIN on the closing contract. The property straddles two lots and has two PINs. Synergy did not respond to our questions about this transaction.

"Ms. Kelly did everything correct in this instance. She had an attorney, she had a realtor, she did it through a title company, she had a title insurance policy. Everything we can expect for a property purchaser to do, she did. She was simply let down by everyone associated with it," said Reed.

There was something else that should have protected Kelly, too. The county says Chicago Title Insurance should have covered her.

But in a legal response to Kelly's suit, Synergy and Chicago Title said there was no responsibility to disclose the two PINs and that Kelly can't prove negligence or fraud.

However, after the I-Team contacted Chicago Title, they re- opened Kelly's insurance claim and the Cook County Assessor's Office recently stepped in, consolidating the properties, PINs and reducing Kelly's amount owed .

Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios: "We went back, looked at the file and made sure that she got all of the exemptions she was entitled to."

Knowles: "And because of us alerting your office you were able to get her $12,000 back?"

Berrios: "Yes she will be receiving approximately $12,000 in refund and in savings on her 2017 bill."

There's still a long process ahead but Kelly's hoping the credits and new insurance claim will help her save her family's home.

"To own my own home was my dream, it was really my dream," said Kelly.

There's more good news for Kelly; late Thursday First Midwest Bank and Synergy told the I-Team they have just reached an agreement and a settlement will be awarded to Kelly.

If you think you have been PIN slammed, we want to hear from you. Contact the I-Team by going to Jason Knowles's Facebook page or call the tip line at 312-750-7TIP.