Posts Tagged ‘Internal Revenue Service’

When the taxman cometh, make sure he’s really the taxman

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT

Posted Jan. 26, 2014, at 9:50 a.m. 

As the story went, the Internal Revenue Service was threatening people who had not filed their income tax returns by Jan. 31 with $10,000 fines.

The story was a hoax, of course. But similar threats are often treated as real, with terrified recipients of bogus emails and phone calls taking a panicky road to losing money.

Tax scams are high on the list of ploys that scammers use to try to steal identities. Dollar losses run into the billions every year. The IRS says scammers who call potential victims often:

— Know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security number;

— Make caller ID appear that the IRS is really calling;

— Send fake emails to reinforce the scam;

— Use common names, phony IRS badge numbers and threaten victims with jail time or revocation of their drivers licenses;

— Call again, claiming to be police or the Department of Motor Vehicles — and caller ID again that appears to back them up.

Scammers who call with a little of your personal information can prompt you to give them enough data to steal your identity and file a false return. The IRS is watching for such fraud, but it’s still a major problem.

Federal officials advise, if you get such a phone call and you owe or think you might owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS staff can help answer your payment questions. If you don’t owe taxes and get such a call, report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.

You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov. Include “IRS Telephone Scam” in your comments.

Businesses may be targets of scammers, too. Owners should watch for offers that are too good to be true (they are) or that require fees in advance. Reject any claim that “the IRS is giving away money” or that you can use outlandish write-offs. Also avoid “consultants” who want to create dummy corporations, hide money offshore or divert funds into trusts as tax dodges.

Scammers rifle through tax liens to see who’s in trouble, then offer “relief,” which means you pay them and get nothing. Some tax preparers can get you in trouble; they may make false claims to get a healthy return deposited to a bank account, then cut you a check for a fraction of the amount.

If someone else prepares your return, read it before signing; it’s still your responsibility to see that everything’s accurate. Don’t do business with a preparer who asks for a percentage of the refund you’re expecting. Do research on the preparer’s track record. Look for a Tax Preparer Identification Number (issued by the IRS) on your return. And never agree to have your return deposited in the preparer’s account.

Learn more about tax scams online at http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Scams-Consumer-Alerts.

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 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Department of Professional and Financial Regulation Offers Guidance for End of Year Charitable Contributions

Charitable Scams Can be More Prevalent This Time of Year  

GARDINER  –  As many Maine families consider holiday season and end of year charitable contributions, Governor Paul R. LePage and Commissioner Anne Head from the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation are encouraging Maine residents to check the legitimacy of unknown charities.  Potential donors are urged to always research charitable organizations before making a donation.  A quick check with the Department can provide information to help in determining whether a charity is legitimate or a scam.

“Maine people are well known for lending a hand to others and for supporting charities,” Governor LePage said.  “We saw that earlier this week with the successful conclusion of the Maine State Employees Combined Charitable, which has raised nearly $270,000 to help those in need.  We always encourage charitable giving and want to assist donors in directing their support to legitimate charities.”

Charitable organizations are required to be licensed with the Department’s Office of Professional and Occupational Regulation, which collects information about charitable activity in Maine and makes it available to the public.

“Charitable solicitation scams aren’t new, but they sometimes increase during the holiday season, at the end of the year, and in the aftermath of tragedies,” Commissioner Head said.  “It’s important for the public to know that guidance and resources are available to assist people in making sure their contributions are going to real charities.”

Commissioner Head advises individuals to ask questions and seek printed information about unknown charities; to confirm their legitimacy with regulators; to never send cash or wire money when requested to do so; to always keep receipts of donations; and to report concerns or complaints about questionable solicitations with the Department and law enforcement.

Information about charities can be obtained through the Department’s website (www.maine.gov/pfr), specifically atwww.maine.gov/pfr/professionallicensing/professions/charitable. Links allow for the search of licensed charitable organizations, as well as disciplinary actions.  Questions and complaints can also be made by calling the Charitable Solicitations Program at 207-624-8525.

Additional tips and advice accompany this news release and can also be obtained from the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov/charityfraud/).

The Department of Professional and Financial Regulation protects the citizens of Maine and supports the economy through the oversight of State-chartered financial institutions, the insurance industry, grantors of consumer credit, the securities industry, and numerous professions providing services to the public.  More information is available at www.maine.gov/pfr.

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Tips and Advice When Considering Charitable Giving

December, 2013

  • Always research unknown charities before contributing.  And whether the charity is new or well established, you may wish to know what percentage of your contribution is spent on fundraising, employee compensation, or expenses which do not directly support the charity’s stated purpose.
  • Not all organizations with names that sound like charities are actually charities.  Some organizations select names that are similar to those of well-known charities.
  • Be cautious when contacted by telephone for a contribution.  Ask that the request be put in writing.  You may also want to ask if the caller is a paid solicitor or a volunteer for the charity.
  • Never give your bank account information or credit/debit card numbers to a caller.  And be wary if the person soliciting the contribution is willing to have someone rush to your home or business to meet with you and pick up a contribution.
  • If you wish to receive a tax deduction, make sure the organization has a tax deductible status with the Internal Revenue Service. “Tax exempt,” “non-profit,” and “tax deductible” mean different things.  Only “tax deductible” means contributions are deductible on your income tax return.  Visit the IRS website (www.irs.gov/charities) for more information.
  • Be wary of organizations which list only post office boxes or mail drop suite numbers as their address.  You may wish to inquire about the charity’s location.

 

Planet Aid clothing collection boxes expanding into Bangor area despite links to European cult – Bangor Daily News

Planet Aid has recently placed 10 donation boxes in the Bangor area.

Planet Aid has recently placed 10 donation boxes in the Bangor area.

By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff
Posted Aug. 26, 2013, at 10:22 a.m.

BREWER, Maine — A few weeks ago a large yellow metal used clothing and shoe collection box was placed at Gunn’s Sports Shop to benefit Planet Aid, Inc., a nonprofit organization that supports programs in 15 underdeveloped countries, and recently expanded into the Bangor area.

The nonprofit’s website says it has donated more than $68 million to underdeveloped countries all around the world since its first collection box was put out in Massachusetts in 1997. But some media reports and a British watchdog group question its legitimacy among the world’s clothing collections charities due to links to a mysterious Danish cult and an “F” rating by Chicago-based philanthropy watchdog agency CharityWatch, which says it spends too much on administration and not enough on its charitable programs.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there about us,” Tom Meehan, chief financial officer for Planet Aid, said earlier this month from the organization’s Holliston, Mass. headquarters.

Planet Aid collects clothing donations from more than 16,000 collection boxes all around the country — 367 in Maine, with 10 new boxes in the Bangor area — and sells the items in bulk to markets in Eastern Europe and Africa. A portion of the funds pay for long-term community development programs in areas of the world where “the population doesn’t really have anything,” Meehan said.

“We help with basic health education, food programs, like our Farmer’s Clubs, and offer teacher training,” he said. “We do long-term projects. We don’t do disaster relief. We try to work with them to make it sustainable. We teach them how to farm, so they can feed themselves.”

The controversy around the nonprofit centers around its connection to the Danish-based group Tvind that was formed in the early 1970s by schoolteacher Morgens Amdi Pedersen and others, and by 1977 had established The International Humana People to People Movement.

Planet Aid is a member of the Humana People to People Federation, the organization’s website states.

Charity or ‘racket’

British journalist Mike Durham, who is based in London, said in an email interview with the Bangor Daily News recently that Tvind is a moneymaking global conglomerate masquerading as a humanitarian organization.

“It’s an international ‘charity-business’ racket, controlled by a money-driven cult,” said Durham, who has spent a decade investigating Planet Aid, Tvind and Humana People to People. “This applies to Planet Aid just as much as to all the other parts of this large and weird organization.”

Durham created a watchdog website, tvindalert.com.

Planet Aid spokesman Jonathan Franks, managing founder of Lucid Public Relations, said that much of Durham’s reporting is misleading.

“Not a lot of it is true and not a lot is researched,” Franks said of Durham’s website.

The Danish government tried to prosecute Pedersen and seven others in his inner circle, a group called the Teachers Group, for tax evasion and fraud a decade ago but only one — Sten Byrner, Tvind’s financial director — was convicted after a three-year trial that ended in 2006, several media sources reported. Byrner received a suspended 1-year jail sentence and the rest, including Pedersen, were acquitted.

“A very small number” of Teachers Group members are board members for Planet Aid, Franks said.

A board of six people, led by Chairman Mikael Norling and President Ester Neltrup, run the organization, according to the Planet Aid website. Franks added later that only about 1 percent of Planet Aid’s approximately 350 employees are Teachers Group members.

“What we tell people is, and it’s always hard to understand, the Teachers Group-Tvind group really have nothing to do with the operations of Planet Aid at all,” the Planet Aid spokesman said.

The Boston Globe reported in 2002 that Neltrup was a Teachers Group member, and that Planet Aid was a spinoff of Tvind, but the nonprofit’s spokesman denied the claim, saying, “It’s definitely not an offshoot.” The Globe report sparked a number of follow up articles in newspapers and magazines and on television news shows wherever the yellow collection boxes showed up, with most focusing on Planet Aid’s connection to Peterson and the Teacher’s Group or their bad rating with CharityWatch.

Planet Aid finances

Franks said whenever people ask about where the money raised is spent, he points them to the organization’s yearly financial documents which are posted on the Planet Aid website and include the annual IRS reporting form for charities, Form 990.

He added that Planet Aid has been audited by the IRS twice in recent years.

“You don’t have to take our word, you can take the government’s word for it,” Franks said. “If there had been anything wrong with it, it would have been found.”

He later added, “If any of it was actually true … the IRS, who is clearly out to find [issues], would have issued a change order.  They’ve issued no change letters, twice.”

An IRS representative said he could not discuss whether a person, business or nonprofit was audited or the results of any IRS audit for privacy reasons. Planet Aid is registered a 501(c)(3) charity and is exempt from federal and state taxes.

Meehan provided the Bangor Daily News with a copy of the 2012 financial audit for Planet Aid issued in June, which shows the nonprofit had a $40.4 million operating budget, up from nearly $37 million for 2011 and in 2012 collected $38.4 million in revenue from clothing sales, up from about $31.4 million in 2011.

Federal contracts decreased in value from about $5 million in 2011 to approximately $3.8 million for 2012, and donations stayed about the same at $659,00 for 2011 to $700,264 in 2012.

The amount allocated to international aid, according to the audit created by Westborough, Mass.-based accounting firm Alexander, Aronson, Finning and Co., increased from $9.98 million in 2011 to $10.7 million for 2012.

The aid issued in 2011 went to training teachers, $3 million; community development for poor youth, $3.2 million; health programs to address disease disorders, including AIDS-HIV, $2 million; and $2 million for agriculture and rural development programs to address nutrition.

The auditor said there were similar allocations for 2012.

Payroll increased by about $2 million between 2011 and 2012, with $12.3 million paid to Planet Aid employees and executives for 2011 and $14.3 million paid in 2012, the audit shows.

The payroll costs of collecting the clothing, which makes up the majority of the wages, also increased by about $2 million, increasing from just under $9.3 million in 2011 to $11.3 million for 2012. General and administrative payroll costs hovered around $3 million for both years.

In addition to salaries for the 350 or so employees, Planet Aid also pays contractors — $381,275 in 2012 and $1.6 million in 2011 — to empty the boxes and transport the goods to the nearest warehouse. Maine has one warehouse, in Gardiner.

Planet Aid spent around $20 million on collecting and reselling the used clothing and shoes in 2011 and $23.3 million in 2012, but classifies the costs as expenses for running a service program — its “U.S. clothing collection and habitat protection” program — since reusing clothes cuts down on environmental conditions created when new clothes are manufactured, and because fewer garments end up in landfills, the Planet Aid website states.

“By collecting and reusing clothes, we are benefitting the environment,” Meehan said.

Failing grade from Charity Watch

The accounting practices of Planet Aid are why CharityWatch gave the organization a failing grade. CharityWatch says only a small portion of the funds raised by Planet Aid are distributed to the needy.

Meehan responded to their claims by saying that it costs money to run a nonprofit, and added, “we pay our people.”

CharityWatch, an independent, nonprofit watchdog agency based in Chicago, has been watching and criticizing Planet Aid for years. The watchdog group, formerly known as the American Institute of Philanthropy, gave Planet Aid an “F” rating in their May-June newsletter.

“This charity consistently reports low overhead and high program spending in its annual financial documents, but a closer analysis by CharityWatch reveals a different picture of how efficiently Planet Aid is operating,” a 2012 report on the nonprofit by CharityWatch states. “Planet Aid reports spending 84 percent of its expenses on programs in 2011. CharityWatch’s analysis of Planet Aid’s 2011 tax form and audited financial statements shows the charity spending only 29 percent of its expenses on programs.”

The big difference in the figures is that Planet Aid categorizes the collection boxes and other collection costs as service program expenses, along with international training and international aid, and CharityWatch says those expenses should be considered fundraising. CharityWatch’s benefit target for nonprofits is to spend 60 percent or more on charitable programs.

Planet Aid also writes off an estimated environmental benefit for donated display space — including the corner of Gunn’s parking lot — and calculates for “contributed use of land” at 1 cent per pound of clothing collected, the audit shows. The value recorded for 2012 was $189,729 and it was $442,767 for 2011.

“Planet Aid collects and processes 50,000 tons annually of used clothes, shoes and textile in states from Maine to California,” the SearchGuide .com review of Planet Aidstates. “Collecting unwanted clothes saves landfill space and reusing already manufactured clothing and other textile saves millions of gallons of water and reduces the use of fertilizer and pesticides [in cotton production].”

U.S. government support

Franks said the nonprofit has earned the trust of two major supporters in the U.S., one being the U.S. government.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is partnering with Planet Aid to feed and teach schoolchildren in Mozambique about how to plant and raise a school garden, and provide teacher training about incorporating gardening into classroom curriculum under the McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. The USDA program is a three-year, $20 million grant issued to Planet Aid in April 2012.

“Beginning this year, Planet Aid is providing daily school meals to 60,000 children in Maputo province — totaling 34 million meals over three years,” Sally Klusaritz, a USDA spokeswoman, said this month. “Under this project, Planet Aid will train teachers, improve water and sanitation systems, and develop school gardens.”

Planet Aid is also partnering with American Soybean Association’s World Initiative for Soy in Human Health or WISHH program to help provide nutrition education to 1 million Mozambicans, she said.

“USDA first provided a grant to Planet Aid in 2004 for a Food for Progress program in Mozambique,” the USDA spokeswoman said. “Since then USDA has provided Planet Aid a second grant in Mozambique and one in Malawi. In both countries, Planet Aid is developing agricultural skills through a Farmers Club project, training teachers to work in rural primary schools, and conducting HIV-AIDS education in rural communities.”

Planet Aid’s Food for Progress program in Mozambique also helped support construction of the One World University, to train instructors for rural teacher training colleges, and the project in Malawi has supported the construction of a new teacher training college, Klusaritz said.

As part of the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service’s regular evaluation process, a compliance review of Planet Aid was conducted this year and and did not identify any irregularities in program implementation, the USDA spokeswoman said.

The review included checking participant performance and financial reports against a sampling of receipts from program expenditures, as well as reviewing independent financial audit reports to identify any significant issues or material weaknesses. The grants to Planet Aid include commodities, ocean transportation and cash for administrative expenses, Klusaritz said.

“It found that Planet Aid was fully compliant with all of the terms and conditions of its agreement with USDA,” she said.

The United States Agency for International Development also awarded 112.6 metric tons of prepackaged food to Planet Aid in 2012 and 93.8 tons in 2011 that was distributed in Zimbabwe, the audit from Meehan states.

“The programs are operating exactly the way people are being told,” Franks said. “They [the U.S. government] watch the programs very carefully and they seem to be making impacts. The USDA believes in it.”

People are also doing their own research.

“In the era of smartphones and the era of Google, they are able to do research and they still make donations,” Franks said.

The Better Business Bureau is now in the process of reviewing the nonprofit’s books to see how they rank against 20 well-established voluntary standards, including the charity’s governance, finances, fundraising and donor privacy policies. The BBB will post the report once complete, the site states, adding the organization “does not evaluate the worthiness of a charitable program.”

Planet Aid did get into trouble in Maine in 2008 because it put out collection boxes but did not have the required state permit to operate as a charity, and ended up paying a $7,500 fine, according to the state’s Agency License Management System.

Meehan said the mishap was just a rookie mistake.

“We’re only 15 years old and that was part of the learning curve,” he said. “That was before I got here, but I believe that we filed it [the permit paperwork] late.”

The permit issue was rectified in 2008, and a five-year permit was issued and is current until the end of November, the state’s license management website states.

Mike Merritt, manager of Gunn’s in Brewer, said he first noticed the yellow boxes when visiting friends in southern Maine and didn’t give it a second thought when approached about putting one in the corner of the parking lot.

“I was down in Westbrook about three weeks ago and there are several,” he said. “The first time they emptied it, they got about nine trash bags out of it.”

The new yellow boxes in Bangor and Brewer are filling fast, Franks said.

“They were doing better in Bangor than elsewhere in the country,” he said. “The first week there was an insane amount of stuff. One had like 4 tons at one place in Bangor, and they’ve requested more brochures for tax receipts. It seems like the customers in the Greater Bangor area are fairly happy with them.”

Video interview with locals

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/08/26/news/bangor/salvation-army-goodwill-leaders-say-yellow-planet-aid-collection-boxes-not-local/?ref=relatedSidebar

Thieves target children as easy victims of identity theft – Bangor Daily News

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted May 12, 2013, at 12:46 p.m.

Here’s a quick quiz: Which of the following scenarios means your child has become a victim of identity theft?

• You receive a notice from the Internal Revenue Service that your child did not pay income taxes, or that the child’s Social Security number was used on another person’s income tax return.

• You or your child are turned down for government benefits because benefits are being paid to another account bearing the child’s SSN.

• You get bills or collection calls for goods or services that you did not order.

The correct answer is: “All of the above.” Each scenario could be an example of a child’s identity being stolen.

A study by Carnegie Mellon CyLab in November 2011 found that 10.2 percent of more than 40,000 juveniles who were studied experienced some kind of identity theft or fraud. The comparable rate among adults was 0.2 percent.

Why the big difference? Children are routinely issued SSNs as infants; if a child’s number is stolen, the theft may not become apparent for months or even years. Those numbers are prime targets for thieves, who look for SSNs with clean histories. With them, thieves can commit financial fraud, do an end-around bad credit ratings and get around constraints placed on illegal immigrants.

Theft can also occur within families. A driver whose license is suspended or revoked might “borrow” the child’s SSN to establish a new identity and regain a license. A person might assume the identity of another family member to repair credit, apply for a job or to avoid arrest.

When a parent discovers that the child’s ID has been stolen, he or she bears the burden of proving that the child is in fact a child, and that the child did not run up the bills that someone else is trying to collect. The parent becomes lead investigator, trying to figure out how the child’s personal information got into the wrong hands while setting the record straight.

When a person turns 18 and applies for financial aid for college or tries to rent an apartment, only then might he or she discover that his or her identity was stolen years before. The investigation becomes a cold case, with a fraudulently obtained credit history in shambles and no way to find out exactly what happened. The thief often uses the identity until the credit history is destroyed and the thief can no longer get credit using that identity.

Parents are urged to check their child’s credit history when the child is no older than 16, to make sure that history is clear (access the three major reporting agencies for a free annual report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com).

The nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center (www.idtheftcenter.org) says sometimes parents who get in financial trouble use the SSN of their own child in an effort to rebuild their financial lives. They may think they will pay off their bills in time, so that their child’s credit history won’t be damaged; that may or may not be the case.

Identity theft was the Federal Trade Commission’s leading complaint last year (the 13th straight year the crime ranked number one), with over 369,000 complaints. The FTC has step-by-step help at its website: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft. The Maine Attorney General’s website ( http://www.maine.gov/ag/consumer/index.shtml) has a checklist of action steps as well. Victims may also contact the Identity Theft Resource Center at 888-400-5530.

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 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

To prevent identity theft, guard your Social Security number

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted Feb. 17, 2013, at 3:12 p.m.

Almost everything you read about preventing identity theft advises that you guard your Social Security number, or SSN, like gold. Why, then, do some agencies insist that you carry certain documents containing your SSN everywhere you go? And as one local consumer asked us, why when you call some companies does everyone who answers the phone need to know your SSN?

We know that identity thieves try all sorts of tricks to access our SSNs. With the numbers and some other personal information, they can open accounts or apply for jobs posing as you. They can also try to get a refund from the Internal Revenue Service; alert the IRS immediately if you receive a letter saying:

• The IRS has information you’ve been paid by an employer that you don’t know.

• It has received more than one tax return with your name on it.

The IRS will work with you to straighten things out. Of course, it’s simpler if you can avoid the hassle in the first place by keeping your SSN out of the hands of thieves.

That can be a problem if you carry it everywhere. Thieves are not shy about picking your pocket or handbag and helping themselves to your SSN, as well as whatever cash you might be carrying. For that reason, experts in preventing identity theft advise you to leave your Social Security card and other documents that contain your number at home, unless it’s mandatory that you have it.

That’s where the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, or PRC, has a problem with some companies and government agencies. PRC notes that in 2006, the U.S. Government Accounting Office found that 42 million Medicare cards, eight million Department of Defense ID cards and seven million Veterans Affairs ID cards carried SSNs. It took until the middle of 2011 for the numbers to begin disappearing from the military IDs.

The Social Security Number Protection Act became law in December 2010, but will take three years to fully implement. Many consumers are unhappy that their SSNs appear on their Medicare cards, which they may feel obligated to carry. The PRC suggests you photocopy your Medicare (or other) insurance card and either blacken or cut out the last four numbers of your SSN. Cut the photocopy to wallet size and carry that, instead of your card with the full number on it. Once you’re in a database, that should be sufficient for identification or authentication purposes.

The “last four numbers of your Social” has become a theme song for entities that still use SSNs as identifiers. We’re asked to believe that revealing a partial number is not risky. Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports, disagreed in a September 2007 letter to the Federal Trade Commission, saying “use of even a partial SSN may be an ineffective authenticator given the widespread availability of these numbers.”

During this tax season, identity thieves are sending out bogus emails by the millions, trying to trick us. Don’t give personal or financial information to a caller or email purporting to be from the IRS — the agency does not do business in those ways. And don’t click on anything in any unsolicited email.

For more on the subject, visit the Federal Trade Commission website at www.ftc.gov and search “tax related identity theft.”

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 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

A (Potentially) Taxing Situation | Consumer Information from FTC

February 12, 2013

by

Carol Kando-Pineda
Attorney, FTC

Tax season is here. It’s time to get your files and forms in order. You may be well-versed in W-2s and 1099’s, but do you know that an identity thief can mess up your tax files or even get to your tax refund before you can file for it?

Tax-related ID theft can happen in a few ways; all of them involve your Social Security Number (SSN). If someone uses your SSN to get a job, the employer reports that person’s income to the IRS using your SSN. When you file your tax return, you don’t include those earnings. The IRS doesn’t know those wages were reported by an employer you don’t know, so the agency would send you a notice or letter saying you didn’t report that income.

Sometimes an identity thief uses your SSN to file for — and get — your tax refund before you file. Then, when you file your return, IRS records show the first filing and the refund. You’ll get a notice or letter from the IRS saying more than one return was filed for you.

If this happens to you — or if the IRS sends you any notice or letter indicating a problem — contact them immediately. Visit the IRS  online or call 1-800-908-4490. Specialists will help you get your tax return filed, get you any refund you may be due, and protect your IRS account from identity thieves in the future.

One additional point: the IRS never starts contact with a taxpayer using email, text, or social media that asks for personal or financial information. If you get an email that claims to be from the IRS, do yourself a favor: don’t reply or click on any links.  Instead, forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

On February 20 and 21, 2013, the FTC, federal and state enforcement agencies, and consumer advocacy groups will hold a series of Town Halls in South Florida to discuss how to combat tax-related ID theft.

If you suspect identity theft, learn more about how to repair the damage.

As tax time approaches, be wary of tax scams

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted Feb. 10, 2013, at 6:20 p.m.

With February upon us, many Mainers are thinking about income taxes and wondering, can the filing deadline really be just a couple of months away?

It is, and the income tax fraud perpetrators are hard at work. Don’t let them catch you in one of their scams, like the fake email claiming it has information that you must deal with right now. They might say they have ways you can get extra deductions; they might even claim to have a refund check for you.

Or, instead of the carrot, they may wield a stick. The scary subject line might read, “FY 2010 and 2011 tax documents; accountant’s letter.” Uh-oh, an audit must be just around the corner … or it’s the scammers, acting tough and hoping we’ll open that attachment and turn loose the Trojan that will give them access to our computers and everything in them.

There are so many scams out there that the Internal Revenue Service has a website ( http://www.irs.gov/uac/Report-Phishing) devoted to keeping scammers at bay. Before reviewing some pointers, let’s look at some of the IRS’s top 10 scams from last year.

Identity theft tops the list. If the IRS notifies you that you’ve filed two tax returns or that you appear to have received wages from an unknown employer, you may have had your identity stolen. Thieves may have filed a tax return in your name and claimed a refund.

Last winter the IRS went after more than 100 people in 23 states suspected of being identity thieves. In 2011, the agency reported more than 900,000 fraudulent returns relating to identity theft. The IRS has been training thousands of employees to help deter such crimes.

Also on the IRS top 10 list is the phishing scam. It’s really the same old ploy to get you to click on an attachment, which starts a program that wreaks havoc on your computer. Resist the urge. DON’T click on attachments in unsolicited emails. DON’T click on attachments in email from people you know if something looks suspicious. And DON’T click on attachments in email from companies you do business with; it may be a look-alike that crooks have created to fool you. Call the company, or do a manual download rather than clicking.

Watch out for fraudulent tax preparers. Some of them charge big fees with promises of a big refund. They may prompt you to “get all you can” by cutting corners or giving the IRS false information, all of which can land you in jail.

Some scammers claim they can help you move money offshore; if you don’t follow the law exactly, you could be looking at a tax evasion charge. Or, the scammer might give you an account number with instructions to wire your money to it; you may find out too late that it’s the scammer’s account and your money is gone.

Another red flag is a promise of “free money” from the IRS. The scammer will promise a few simple tricks making tax return preparation simpler and prompting larger refunds. The “tips” may be weak or just plain wrong, and the “free” money goes to the crook.

Remember, the IRS does not use email, text messaging or social media to get personal or financial information from filers. If you get a fax claiming to be from the IRS, contact the agency to make sure it’s real. To do that, or for a tax-related question, you can reach the IRS through this website: http://www.irs.gov/uac/How-to-Contact-the-IRS-1.

One bit of friendly advice: If you file electronically, keep a hard copy for your files. And for low- and moderate-income households, there’s free tax preparation help available through the United Way of Eastern Maine (http://www.unitedwayem.org/content/4057/eastern-maine-cash) and Volunteers of America (http://www.voanne.org/Services/TaxAssistance).

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 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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