Package for You? Yeah, a Pack of Pain

The US Postal Inspection Service reports a scam in which you receive an email informing you that the US Postal Service (USPS) had trouble trying to deliver a package to your address. All you have to do is click on the enclosed link arrange for delivery. If you click on the link you will download a

USPS Office of the Inspector General

An exact replica of your nonexistent package

malicious virus that can steal information from your computer. So…how can I put this?…Oh yeah, DON’T CLICK ON THE LINK! In fact, never click on any link in any email that resembles an email like this.What to do? Forward spam emails that involve snail mail to the USPS Inspection service at spam@uspis.gov. If there is a package waiting for you, the mail carrier will leave a notice in your mailbox.

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The Consumer Gal and I are about to have our book, Enough of Us – which deals with another realm – published in a few weeks. In preparation for the big event we need to concentrate on that project. So for the next eight weeks or so, I will be suspending my semi-monthly Consumer Guy full-length blog posts and, instead, providing  a short consumer tip each week (I hope).

If you would like to learn more about our book that deals with issues of ethics and procreation, please visit our other website, www.enoughof.us. Many thanks for your interest.

 

Cleaning Your Ductwork Could Mean Getting Cleaned Out

According to Consumer Reports Money Adviser, having your home’s ductwork cleaned may clean out your heating vents … and your checking account. Unless, when you poke you head into the vent you see mold, there is no evidence that spotless ducts will make your life any easier or cleaner.

And according to the Environmental Protection Agency:

Airducts diagram (EPA)

Structural diagram of an air duct (EPA)

“Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts. This is because much of the dirt in air ducts adheres to duct surfaces …  air ducts are only one of many possible sources of particles that are present in homes. Pollutants that enter the home both from outdoors and indoor activities such as cooking, cleaning, smoking, or just moving around can cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts. Moreover, there is no evidence that a light amount of household dust or other particulate matter in air ducts poses any risk to your health.”Money Adviser also warns that poorly trained workers might damage your heating system. Companies that offer free “tests” will claim to find mold and then hike the initial cleaning price quote.If you decide to have your ducts cleaned after an inspection, ask the sales rep to show you exactly what he found and to put into a written contract what process the company will use to do the job. Before you sign on the dotted line, check with your local Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), Yelp!, and your local consumer protection agency (it might be your state’s attorney general’s office).

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The Consumer Gal and I are about to have our book, Enough of Us – which deals with another realm – published in a few weeks. In preparation for the big event we need to concentrate on that project. So for the next eight weeks or so, I will be suspending my semi-monthly Consumer Guy full-length blog posts and, instead, providing  a short consumer tip each week (I hope).

If you would like to learn more about our book that deals with issues of ethics and procreation, please visit our other website, www.enoughof.us. Many thanks for your interest.

 

 

 

Here Come the Tax Scams

It’s that time of year again. No, I am not referring to George Washington’s birthday. Nor those of Drew Barrymore, Vijay Singh, Dr. J, Ted Kennedy, or Lord Baden-Powell (dudes . . . he founded the Boy Scouts!). It’s time to prep your bits of paper and checkbook registers for your tax returns. Each year the Internal Revenue Service does us all a favor by offering a dirty duodeciscam (as in a dozen scams) list. “Taxpayers should be careful and avoid falling into a trap with the Dirty Dozen. Scam artists will tempt people in person, on line and by email with misleading promises, about lost and free money. Don’t be fooled by these scams,” Says IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman.

1) Identity theft: If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, notify the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at www.IRS.gov/identitytheft.  If you do so in time you might prevent a rogue from reaping a refund in your name, even if you do not have a refund coming.

2) Phishing. As many of you know, this is not a typo. And it is not related to Price-Pfister, the faucet company. It’s a solicitation that looks exactly like an official email from a government agency or a legitimate company with which you might have done business. The phishing email asks for personal information about you and various account numbers. If you receive an email that appears to be from the IRS and asks you for any personal information, do not respond. Instead, forward it to phishing@irs.gov. It’s a good idea to not provide such information to any business that asks for it in an email.

3) Illegitimate Tax Preparers. If you use a professional to prepare your taxes, check that person or business out before hiring. As the IRS puts it: “Questionable tax preparers have been known to skim off their clients’ refunds, charge inflated fees, and attract new clients by promising guaranteed or inflated refunds . . . In 2012 every paid preparer needs to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number and enter it  on the returns he or she prepares.” Here are some indications that preparers may not be on the up and up: They don’t sign the return or include their tax preparer number; Failure to give you a copy of your return; Promise of a larger-than-expected refund; Charges you a percentage of your refund as a fee; Asks you to split the refund; Adds forms to the return that you never filed before even though your status has not changed; They encourage you to place false information on your return.

4) Hiding Income Offshore. This usually applies to taxpayers (or cheats) with substantial resources. Many people have evaded taxes by hiding income in foreign banks, brokerage accounts and other schemes including foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, annuities or insurance plans. Now we all love the IRS, so we’re happy that they have lots of investigators who pursue taxpayers with undeclared accounts, as well as the enablers who assist them in their nefarious undertakings. If you have such offshore holdings, you are required to report the. If you don’t and you get caught, you will most likely have to pay through the nose or some other orifice.

5) Free Money From the IRS. Come on, what other kind of money can be given away? Money that you have to pay for? Scammer have been circulating flyers at community churches or spreading word among low-income people and the elderly. Here’s how the scam works. They let folks know that the government has a money giveaway program. All you have to do is apply. They charge the dupe a fee, help them fill out a form and then disappear. One of the scams involves having the victim apply for a Social Security refund that doesn’t exist.

6) False Income and Expenses. This is a really good way to be called in for an audit. I went through a small such audit a long time ago. I ended up owing nothing but it was a pain in the neck and several other body parts. And if you owe money as a result you will be very, very unhappy. This scam works thus: You claim more income than you actually made and then make false claims about your expenses in order to maximize refundable credits and then get an increased refund. In addition, says the IRS, some taxpayers are filing excessive claims for the fuel tax credit. Doing so could result in having to repay the refunds plus interest plus penalties. Good luck with that.

7) False Form 1099 Refund .Truthfully, I don’t quite understand this. But if you are thinking of filing a false information return like a 1099 Original Issue Discount (OID) to justify a false refund claim, don’t do it.

8) Frivolous Agreements. “Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying taxes they owe. The IRS has a list of frivolous tax arguments that taxpayers should avoid.” They have been thrown out of court, so don’t bother.

9) Falsely Claiming Zero Wages. Typically, a filer submits a Form 4852 or a “corrected” Form 1099 that reduces income to zero, sometimes submitting statutory language as an explanation as to why the filer does not consider certain income as wages. Sometimes they blame a paying company for not issuing a corrected 1099. In addition to other penalties there is a $5,000 penalty.

10)  Abuse of Charitable Organizations and Deductions. In a nutshell, here’s what not to do. Don’t claim deductions for contribution to charities over assets that you still control or from which you still make income. Don’t overvalue non-cash assets that you donate. If you donate non-cash assets, make sure you are not claiming the value on one set of donated items that other entities are also claiming.

11) Disguised corporate ownership. In this scheme, third parties request employer identification numbers and form corporations that obscure the true ownership of a business. Then they underreport income, claim fictitious deductions, avoid filing tax returns and pull off all sorts of other scams, like money laundering. The IRS is now working with state authorities to identify such cons.

12)  Misuse of Trusts. Trusts serve all kinds of use purposes, including some that legitimately aid folks in reducing tax burdens. But – and here comes my big but – the IRS has seen an increase in the use of trusts like private annuity trusts and foreign trusts in order to shift income and deduct personal expenses. If you are planning to use a trust, seek the help of a legitimate attorney who specializes in such vehicles and include advice from a financial professional as well.