‘Super search engine’ helps county detect homestead exemption tax fraud

Over $2.3 million in errors, fraud detected so far

Fort Bend County has uncovered over $2.3 million in errant or fraudulent homestead tax exemptions utilizing a powerful search engine and analytic algorithm operated by LexisNexis Risk Solutions.

Chief Appraiser Glen Whitehead of the Fort Bend Central Appraisal District said the county subscribes to the LexisNexis service and that its Homestead Exemption Fraud Detection Solution has filtered nearly 4,000 accounts so far with 580 found to contain errors. He said some are fraudulent, some are double exemptions and others are simple mistakes.

“We still have 16,000 accounts to go through. The process began last year and is expected to take another year to complete,” he said.

Whitehead explained that the LexisNexis “super search engine” scours various databases and compares it to tax filings and reports anomalies, which are then investigated by his staff.

“We take our responsibility as a steward of taxpayer dollars very seriously,” Whitehead said. “Erroneous homestead exemption filings, whether due to the homeowner’s mistake or intentional fraud, takes dollars away from important services like schools and first responders, leaving honest taxpayers to fill the gap with higher tax bills.”

From a population of approximately 685,000, the LexisNexis Homestead Exemption Fraud Detection Solution identified several thousand properties as being suspicious and needing additional research. Certified fraud analysts with LexisNexis Risk Solutions worked with Fort Bend Central Appraisal District officials to research the identified homesteads to determine if their exemptions were legitimate or should be denied.

Whitehead said there are at least three cases that are currently being investigated as tax fraud. He said when inaccuracies are reported, his staff contacts the homeowner by letter. Once contact is made, the homeowner can either pay what is owed or appeal.

LexisNexis uses proprietary identity analytics to detect erroneous filings and fraudulent activity by cross-checking customer records against more than 20,000 public records and commercial data sources.

The program reviews the homestead exemption filings to ensure compliance with state laws to detect key indicators for errors and fraud, including duplicate exemption filings and family members receiving deductions under a deceased property owners’ name.

“We applaud the Fort Bend Central Appraisal District for using new technology to gain a broader picture of its homestead exemption claims – one that looks at claimed exemptions across jurisdictional boundaries to detect anomalies, errors and outright fraud,” said Haywood Talcove, CEO, Government, LexisNexis Risk Solutions. “Using identity analytics to detect suspicious filings, such as exemptions for deceased property owners or those with multiple exempted properties, Fort Bend County is recapturing lost revenue while ensuring every taxpayer pays their fair share.”

Whitehead said the money recovered through the program is returned to the appropriate taxing entities in the county. There are 207 active taxing jurisdictions in Fort Bend County, including the county, school districts, cities, MUDs and others.

– Editor Joe Southern contributed to this story.

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