ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — For Marilyn Vescovo, her home encompasses her favorite memories, family and a life well-lived.
“We've lived here for 52 years. Our son was born here. It may not be the biggest or the most modern, but it's our home," she said.
It's why she said her sense of security was threatened when she was almost scammed.
“It just struck me that just isn't right. It's not the way I don't think the county operates," said Vescovo, who lives in west St. Louis County.
It started with a letter in the mail from St. Louis County, something Marilyn and nearly 400,000 other county residents are getting. It's information about their real estate value, which comes every two years. She wanted to learn more.
So she says she went to the county's website listed in the letter. She typed in her address, and that’s when she said a pop-up appeared on her screen asking for her to pay a fee to view the value of her home.
“And you can either pay with credit or debit," said Vescovo.
Fortunately, she didn’t pay anything.
“Our kids have beat it into our heads. Don't give out your credit card numbers," she said.
Instead, she called the county office directly and discovered it was a scam. She learned hackers initially ask for $1, and then for $23, promising to monitor the value of your property.
“What I didn't understand was why, if the county knew about this, which the lady told me they did, why didn't they contact the newspaper, a news organization, and tell them this is going on?” said Vescovo.
So we contacted them. The St. Louis County Assessor’s Office tells the I-Team their website is secure, advising taxpayers to double-check their security settings. Spokesperson Sarah Siegel tells us her office has gotten dozens of calls about this problem. She fears how many people have handed over their information.
“Sometimes when people fall victim to something like this, they're embarrassed, so they're reluctant to report it," said Sarah Siegel, a spokesperson with the St. Louis County Assessor’s Office.
“It's just terrible. I feel awful for them," said Siegel.
Two days after Marilyn called the assessor’s office to complain, the office contacted the Missouri Attorney General’s Office and sent out a press release warning of scammers. You’ll also now find an alert on their website, reminding taxpayers that property records are free. It tells taxpayers to watch out for online scams.
The problem is, they’re happening all the time. Last year alone, the FBI says people worldwide lost over $10 billion to internet scams.
Some of the most common tactics: criminals trick victims into giving their credit card information. In Missouri alone, there were more than 7,500 victims.
It’s why Vescovo is talking about it.
“I don't like to see people taken advantage of without their knowledge... It upsets me," she said.
The County Assessor’s Office tells us this is the first time they’re aware of hackers impersonating their website in an effort to steal money from taxpayers.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office tells us they encouraged the County Assessor’s Office to refer any consumers who believe they have been scammed to their office. Consumers can report complaints to ago.mo.gov or 800-392-8222.
If you want to go to the St. Louis County Assessor’s Office, head to stlouiscountymo.gov.
Address: 41 South Central, Clayton, MO 63105
Office Hours: Monday - Friday 8 AM – 4:30 PM