STAR Exemption Advisor and Owner Arie Gal Charged Homeowners for Simply Forwarding Basic STAR Exemption Applications To Nassau County Assessor’s Office.
Mineola, NY - February 22, 2019 - Attorney General Letitia James today announced a settlement with STAR Exemption Advisor, YCA Corp. and its business owner Arie Gal for scamming thousands of new homeowners by charging them excessive fees to enroll in the Basic STAR Exemption Program, which is otherwise free.
“Taking advantage of New Yorkers by manipulating a tax exemption program created to help homeowners is illegal and immoral,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “We should be doing all we can to support homeowners, not prey upon them and steal their hard-earned savings. This settlement is a continued reminder that my office will pursue any individual who tries to deceive New Yorkers.”
Terms of the settlement include $920,000 in damages, the dissolution of STAR Exemption and YCA Corp, the recision of all consumer contracts with STAR Exemption, the cancelation of all outstanding billed/unbilled accounts, the permanent barring from offering any property tax rebate services in the State of New York, and the vacating of all small claims court judgments.
The New York State School Tax Relief (“STAR”) Program provides a partial exemption from school property taxes for primary residences that are owner-occupied with a total household income of $500,000 or less. To receive the exemption, new homeowners must file an application with their local assessor’s office by January 2 each year in order for the exemption to be applied to the upcoming and subsequent years’ tax bills.
The Attorney General’s office sued following its investigation of Mr. Gal and his business after receiving numerous complaints from homeowners who alleged that his company had substantially overcharged them for filing an otherwise free application that the homeowners had completed themselves. The Supreme Court of Nassau County found Gal and his business liable for fraudulent and deceptive business practices and false advertising, as homeowners were unaware that they were doing business with a private company, since they believed they were sending their Nassau County application forms to the County, not an intermediary.
Mr. Gal used an official-sounding name like “Star Exemption Advisor” to scam thousands of homeowners out of tax savings that rightfully belonged to them. His company sent misleading mailers that looked like official government agency documents, tricking homeowners into signing up with them to apply for the Basic STAR exemption for a fee. The respondents used official-looking envelopes to make homeowners think that the mailers were coming from a government agency. Moreover, the company charged homeowners an exorbitant fee that was 100 percent of the total tax savings for the first year, even though applying for the Basic STAR exemption costs nothing and can be accomplished without professional help.
Once homeowners were approved for the exemption, the company sent them invoices. If payment was not remitted immediately or homeowners disputed the charges, Mr. Gal sued them in Small Claims Court. Mr. Gal even sued homeowners for applications the homeowners had personally filed with the Department of Assessment. Upon receiving a Small Claims Court notice from Mr. Gal, most homeowners settled to avoid litigation. Homeowners who went to their scheduled court date were shocked to see so many other homeowners in the same predicament.
The investigation was handled by Valerie Singleton, Assistant Attorney General in Charge of the Nassau Regional Office; Assistant Attorney General Christina H. Bedell, Supervising Investigator Paul Matthews, and Senior Consumer Frauds Representative Adam Levin. The Nassau Regional Office is part of the Division of Regional Affairs, led by Jill Faber, Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs.