I-Team 10 Follow-up: Greece uses fraudulent Craigslist ad, accuses homeowner of owing taxes

Posted at: 10/28/2013 2:33 PM
Updated at: 10/28/2013 5:37 PM
By: Berkeley Brean

It's a warning to everyone who is looking to sell, buy or rent a home. Two weeks ago, I-Team 10 broke the news to a man in Greece who is selling his home, that he was the victim of a scam. Someone took a picture of his house and put it on Craigslist as a place to rent. 

Even though I-Team 10 exposed the scam, the owner's biggest problem came in the mail two days later. He received a letter from the town of Greece. The letters says he owes thousands in back taxes because they believed his home was a rental property. They believed he lied about living in the home. The source of the allegation is the Craigslist ad.

The letter was titled, “Notice of Exemption Removal”. It said Paul Riess wasn't entitled to the tax breaks he was getting. But then Riess and his daughter decided to call the Green Town Assessor's Office. 

Paul Riess, homeowner, said, “Simple direct question. Where did you get your information from? They told me it came off of Craigslist.”

The very same Craiglist ad that I-Team 10 proved was a scam was the main source for the town.

I-Team 10's Berkeley Brean said, “So you believe that the town looked at that Craigslist ad, believed it, and therefore, thought that you were cheating on your taxes because you were renting this place out.”

Riess said, “Exactly.”

Brean said, “Your dad was basically accused of cheating on his taxes.”

Janine Pajek, Riess' daughter, said, “Yes, and my father is one of the most honest people you'll ever meet.”

The listing for Riess's house was posted on his realtor's webpage. The scam artist took the same picture and the same description of the house and put it on Craiglist as a $1,100 rental. A total fraud, but it's what the town used to say Riess didn't live at his home and the consequences would have been tens of thousands of dollars. By removing the exemptions, it doubled the amount he would have to pay taxes on from $65,000 to $119,000. Riess says no one came to his door. No one called him. They just sent the letter. 

Riess said, “Talk to the people directly. You might get some answers that can help you out.”

I-Team 10 talked to the Greece assessor on the phone late Monday. Leo Carroll says hundreds of these notices are sent out every year as a means to cut down on tax exemption fraud. He says 98 percent of the time they're accurate. 

Carroll says Craiglist is one of several sources and it was the main one against Paul Riess. The assessor said the situation was cleared up after Mr. Riess was asked to show his RG&E bill, proof that he lives at the home. Guilty until proven innocent. But the assessor didn't agree with that characterization. He did say he talked with his staff and told them they have to be more careful.