Income Tax Scams – WABI-TV

Russ and Joy talk about scammers that take advantage of the income tax season to gain personal information from you.

Tuesday’s deadline for filing income taxes has the scam artists in high gear. They’ll email, and sometimes call, saying they are Internal Revenue Service officials and that you owe taxes. They will demand payment, often by wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or by giving your credit card number, threatening jail-time, revoking your driver’s license and more if you don’t pay up.

Russ says not to fall for any of these ploys. The IRS will not email or call you, they will use regular mail as a primary means of communication. Russ also warns you to be wary of any phone calls, as these scammers may know such information as the last four numbers of your social security number, they may use fake phone numbers and badge numbers to appear more legitimate, and the may even go as far as calling back with threats posing as the police or the department of motor vehicles.

The Federal Trade Commission is warning businesses that emails with the subject line “Pending consumer complaint” are NOT from the FTC. They are from scammers claiming that someone has filed a complaint with the FTC about their company. Clicking on attachments could download a virus or other malware onto your computer, just delete them.

For more on malicious emails, visit http://www.onguardonline.gov/malware.

When a solicitor calls, ask how much of your donation actually goes to charity

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted April 13, 2014, at 10:40 a.m.

 

Consumer rights and charitable solicitations

The caller was straightforward, stating up front that hewas being paid to solicit funds on behalf of the Maine State Federation of Firefighters. 

The cause: to aid the families of fallen firefighters. No argument there. However, as a consumer advocate, I had to ask the question. How much of what you raise goes to the federation?

The response stopped me cold.

“I’ve been instructed to tell people who ask that, [that] at least 15 percent of the money goes to that cause,” the caller said.

“Fifteen percent?” I asked in disbelief.

The caller thanked me for my time and ended the call.

He was being accurate. Companies that solicit Maine consumers by phone must register with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Outreach Calling, the firm making the call to our home, reported last year that during 2012, it returned exactly 15.00009885 percent of funds it raised to Maine State Federation of Firefighters.

Outreach made similar reports to Maine on the 16 other charities for which it raised funds.

“Cancer” was a key word in the names of five of those charities; other beneficiaries included veterans, children and public safety groups. Several of the groups also received around 15 percent of funds raised; in 10 instances, the return to each was almost exactly 10 percent.

Why employ a phone solicitor that gives back only a fraction of what it collects?

“We do it because it’s effective, and it raises money for us,” said William Vickerson, the attorney in Portland representing Maine State Federation of Firefighters.

He told me that most members of the Maine State Federation of Firefighters are volunteers, and fundraising is not their strong suit. If they sold cookies or calendars, they’d have overhead that would eat into any proceeds raised.

“With us, the gross profit is also the net profit,” Vickerson said when pressed on the 15 percent return.

He said Outreach has been responsive to concerns he has voiced in the past when consumers complained about particular callers or solicitation techniques. He also said most of those complaints were unfounded, based on recordings of the calls which Outreach routinely makes.

You might wonder why you receive such calls, if you’ve been placed on the National Do-Not-Call list. Charitable causes are one of those exempt classes as are political calls, which we’ll all receive soon in growing numbers.

Some consumers when called routinely say, “Put me on YOUR do-not-call list,” and some of them report success (results may vary).

Charity Navigator, a major watchdog group, rates more than 7,000 charities on its website (www.charitynavigator.org), including two dozen involved in fighting breast cancer. Together, the charities raised $1.8 billion; but the percent of its budget that each spends to raise money varies, from a low of 2 percent to a high of 91 percent.

Advocates like to see at least half of all money raised going to the cause to which they were donated; so, we think, do donors.

Charity Navigator, Guidestar and other research groups offer help in choosing which causes to support. GreatNonprofits.org offers people familiar with a charity’s operations a chance to share experiences with others.

Last year, the Tampa Bay Times and California-based Center for Investigative Reporting did extensive research and rated America’s 50 Worst Charities. Outreach Calling made the list, based on returns of 9.8 percent to 15 percent for six charities reviewed in 2010 and 2011.

William Vickerson says, so far, Maine State Federation of Firefighters has not been able to find a fundraiser that can do better in Maine.

Asked if the federation will keep looking, he replied, “We’ll do it. We always do.”

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

 

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“Pending FTC complaint” emails are fakes – FTC

FTC Warns Small Businesses: Don’t Open Email Falsely Claiming to be From FTC‏

“Pending FTC complaint” emails are fakes | Consumer Information.

Have you gotten an email with the subject line “Pending consumer complaint” that looks like it came from the FTC? The email warns that a complaint against you has been filed with the FTC. It asks you to click on a link or attachment for more information or to contact the FTC.

These emails pull out all the stops to look official: They have an FTC seal, references to the “Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA)” and a “formal investigation,” and what look like real FTC links. The truth is that they’re fakes.

We’ve heard from many people that emails like this are making the rounds. If you get one, don’t open it. Don’t click on the links. If you click on the link, it may install malware on your computer. Malware can cause your device to crash and can be used to monitor and control your online activity, steal your personal information, send spam, and commit fraud. You can forward the email to spam@uce.gov, but then delete as soon as you do.

How to avoid scams hiding behind unclaimed property lists

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted April 06, 2014, at 12:47 p.m.

After seeing a recent news release from the Maine treasurer’s office, a Northeast CONTACT caseworker told a friend that his name was on the treasurer’s list of unclaimed property owners. All that he had to do was call the treasurer’s office, identify himself and give his Social Security number to verify his identity. The friend was indignant. “I’m not revealing my Social Security number,” the friend said. “Don’t you know what could happen?” The caseworker replied, “You don’t think the state of Maine knows your Social Security number already?” The friend was being cautious, perhaps overly cautious. We urge consumers to claim property, cash or other valuables that are rightfully theirs. And we urge them to do so in an orderly manner, so as not to fall victim to a number of scams that are out there. First, we’ll define unclaimed property as lost or forgotten assets. Funds in idle bank or credit union accounts, uncashed payroll or dividend checks, unredeemed money orders, even gift certificates may be unclaimed property. These and other abandoned assets total over $41 billion waiting to be claimed, because the rightful owners could not be located in a specified span of time. Among the things that do not constitute unclaimed property are real estate (see appropriate municipal officials); abandoned animals (animal welfare laws apply); and abandoned vehicles (Maine’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles can advise on these). Let’s look at the Maine state treasurer’s website at www.maine.gov/unclaimed. There, you can search for unclaimed property you may own or report unclaimed property. A fact sheet puts total unclaimed funds in Maine, from 1979 to 2013, at more than $191 million. During fiscal year 2013, the state paid more than 16,000 claims averaging a bit over $1,000 each. The largest single payout was over $130,000. To claim your abandoned property, complete an online form on the state treasurer’s website at www.maine.gov/treasurer; or print out a blank form, fill it out and mail it to the treasurer’s office (39 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04330). There is no fee to file a claim, and there’s no need to pay anyone else to help you. For assistance, call 624-7470 or toll-free in Maine at 888-283-2808. The federal government does not have a single website to search, so you’ll need to search individual states if you have unclaimed property outside Maine. The feds do have leads to finding property that may have been subject to federal regulation (failed financial institutions, savings bonds no longer earning interest and so on) at www.usa.gov (search for “unclaimed property”). State treasurers across the country maintain a National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators website at www.unclaimed.org. You can find links to other states where you have lived to search for unclaimed property. You can also report suspicious unclaimed property email messages and websites to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. And, yes, the scammers are out there. Here are some tip-offs of frauds: They may pose as National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators officials when sending fraudulent emails (which real unclaimed property officers never do). They might try to refer you to someone other than a state official (this work is not outsourced). They could demand a fee (there’s never a charge). And they’ll likely want bank account information (although you might have to supply personal information such as your Social Security number, you’ll never be asked for bank account info).

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Competitive Electricity Pricing – WABI-TV

VIDEO 

Russ and Joy continue a discussion of competitive electric pricing offers.

The Maine Public Advocate last week advised consumers to be wary of competitive electric pricing offers that start out as a fixed rate, but may change to a variable rate after the introductory period.

If you have any questions or would like some more information about competitive electric pricing offers you can visit their website at this link Office of the Public Advocate Website

New Maine tax credit replaces ‘Circuit Breaker’ program

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT Posted March 30, 2014, at 5:42 p.m.

A friend approached me recently, saying he was concerned that some seniors may have thrown away paperwork that they could have used to save some money.

At issue is Maine’s new Property Tax Fairness Credit, passed by the Legislature to take the place of the Maine Residents Property Tax and Rent Refund “Circuit Breaker” program. Lawmakers repealed that statute last year and put the PTFC in its place.

Qualifying for the credit are consumers who were Maine residents for any part of tax year 2013 and who lived in a home they owned or rented here for that part of the year. They must have had a Maine adjusted gross income of not more than $40,000 and paid property tax of at least 10 percent of that amount or paid rent on an apartment that was over 40 percent of their Maine adjusted gross income.

The credit of up to $300 (or $400 for those age 70 or older) became available in January and is claimed on the state individual Income Tax Form 1040ME.

To get the credit, eligible people must complete a worksheet that accompanies the form. And that’s where the confusion may have started.

Worksheets were mailed to all Mainers who filed a Circuit Breaker application on or after Aug. 1, 2012, whether they paid state income tax or not. My friend had said some seniors he knew had received the mailing from Maine Revenue Services and discarded it; since they were not liable for any Maine income tax, they reasoned, there was no need to concern themselves with whatever was in the envelope.

That’s not a problem, according to state officials and representatives of seniors groups we’ve spoken with. The forms can be downloaded from Maine Revenue Services’ website (www.maine.gov/revenue/forms) or by calling 1-207-624-7894 to request that a form be mailed. The credit is available for three years for Mainers who do not have to pay any income tax.

Volunteers from AARP will be at various area Agencies on Aging until April 15. Dyan Walsh, director of community services at the Eastern Area Agency on Aging, says the volunteers have received special training on the PTFC.

Walsh says a number of seniors have called since Jan. 1, expecting to sign up for the Circuit Breaker program and not realizing that it had been replaced by the PTFC. Walsh says if seniors cannot travel to the EAAA office, they can call Maine Revenue Services at 207-626-8475 for help. They may also seek assistance by emailing income.tax@maine.gov or by visiting in person at 51 Commerce Drive, Augusta.

Low- and moderate-income earners may qualify for free help in preparing their state and federal income taxes through a program called Ca$h Maine. You can call 211 for details or read about it online at www.211maine.org/cah-maine-2013/.

AARP also offers free tax help at the Bangor Public Library. Until April 10, help will be available Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the small conference room near the reading room.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.  

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Consumer Alert – Office of the Public Advocate‏

Maine Office of the Public Advocate warns current and potential customers of competitive electricity suppliers to look out for fixed price contracts that renew at a variable rate.

In recent months, competitive electricity providers have made a renewed push to convince Maine customers to switch from the standard offer to a competitive supplier.  Often, these suppliers offer a short term (e.g. six month) fixed rate that is lower than the current standard offer, which increased on March 1st.  But customers may see their electricity bill skyrocket once this initial term expires.

Customers need to pay close attention to what happens when their contract, and the initial rate, expires.  In many cases, if customers do nothing, they will be automatically renewed at a variable rate that can be much higher than the fixed rate they originally signed up for.  Variable rates typically change on a monthly basis, and variable rates for competitive suppliers in Maine have been as high as 23 cents per kWh, or more than three times the current standard offer price. Eric Bryant, Senior Counsel at the Office of the Public Advocate, says, “We generally discourage customers from signing up for variable rates, because there’s no cap on how high those rates can rise.”

Competitive electricity providers are required to notify customers of any such renewal and rate change at least 30 days before their contract ends, but not all customers see these notices, or understand the consequences of moving to a variable rate.  Says Bryant, “Often the first time customers realize that they’ve been moved to a variable rate is when they receive a higher than normal electricity bill.” He recommends that customers weigh this risk against the potential savings before switching to a competitive supplier: “A supply price of 1 cent less than the standard offer price will save the average residential customer between $5 and $6 per month. The higher prices associated with a variable price can easily wipe out a year’s worth—or more—of those electricity savings in a single month.”

The Office of the Public Advocate is currently reviewing what changes to existing electricity regulations are needed to protect consumers, and expects that the Maine Public Utilities Commission will open a proceeding to revise those rules.  Tim Schneider, Maine’s Public

Advocate says “Customers in other New England and Mid-Atlantic states have experienced the same issues with variable rate contracts with competitive providers, and we’ve been working closely with our counterparts in those states to trade ideas and compare notes about how to ensure that consumers and regulators have all the information, tools and protections they need.” The Office of the Public Advocate maintains a web page devoted to supply options, with tips and advice, a listing of some of the competitive supplier’s offers, and a brief description of consumer protections.  It can be found at http://www.maine.gov/meopa/utilities/electric/supply.html.

Consumer Forum March 17th – What you need to know about electricity pricing

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