Posts Tagged ‘Internal Revenue Service’

You can’t avoid death and taxes, but you can dodge identity theft


Posted Jan. 30, 2017, at 8:25 a.m.

Last year, the Internal Revenue Service, the states and tax professionals teamed up to reduce incidents of taxpayer identity theft.

The crime occurs when a criminal steals your Social Security number and files a return in your name; the thief claims a refund to which he’s not entitled. When you file your legitimate tax return, the IRS flags it because it has already received a return in your name.

It’s believed that more diligent enforcement helped the IRS to prevent more than $180 million from going to fraudulent claimants. Now, officials are doubling down on their efforts to fight taxpayer ID theft.

The Federal Trade Commission has proclaimed the week of Jan. 30-Feb. 3 as Tax Identity Theft Week. The agency is offering a series of events to educate consumers and business people on ways they can minimize the risk of thieves stealing refunds.

At 3 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31, the FTC and Identity Theft Resource Center will hold a Twitter chat dealing with tax identity theft, ways to protect yourself and what to do if you are a victim.

A similar session is planned for 11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1, about tax ID theft for service people, veterans and their families. At 4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1, FTC and the IRS will hold a tax ID theft chat for small business people. Find a link to these and other events at and look under “Latest News.”

Income tax season is big business for high-tech criminals, so be on guard for all sorts of scams. You might get a call from someone posing as an IRS official, seeking to “verify” tax return information by phone.

Other scammers may mention news reports of tax fraud and try to trick victims into “verifying the last four digits of their Social Security number.”

Others might pretend to be from the tax preparation industry … in short, they’ll use any tactic they think might work to fool consumers.

The crooks also take aim at business people. They might call human resources professionals and ask for information found on W-2 forms; a variation of that scam has an email message bearing the name of a corporate officer seeking personal information about an employee. Some scammers have posed as providers of software to trick tax preparers.

The variations are virtually endless. The IRS lists many of the most often used tricks at its website,

Many tax pros suggest filing early, thereby giving the crooks less time to file fraudulently ahead of you. Once you have filed, you can check the status of your refund at

You also can call the IRS Identity Theft toll-free at 800-908-4490 or visit

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 or email

If robots call to say you owe back taxes, don’t believe them

Posted Jan. 16, 2017, at 6:19 a.m.

Which of the following is a scam?

— You get a phone call saying you owe money to the Internal Revenue Service and should pay by way of an iTunes card.

— A caller says she is an IRS official demanding immediate payment of overdue taxes, and the number on your caller ID appears to be from the local IRS office.

— A caller identifies himself as a law enforcement officer and says you face immediate arrest if you don’t wire money for overdue taxes.

— An email bearing an official-looking IRS logo asks you to “update your IRS e-file immediately.” The email mentions IRSgov — without a dot separating “IRS” and “gov.”

If you answered that all of the above are scams, you are correct.

The investigative arm of the IRS says that 1.8 million people have reported receiving impostor calls. More than 9,600 victims have been scammed out of more than $50 million.

Phishing and malware incidents rose roughly 400 percent during the 2016 tax filing season. Despite officials’ best efforts to curb the increase, it’s expected that the numbers of tax-related scam attempts will continue to grow.

Increasingly popular with scammers is the robo-call. The crooks leave urgent call-back requests, demanding payment of “back taxes” with gift cards. IRS officials say such demands are clear signs of a scam.

Other callers may ask for payment of a nonexistent “federal student tax.” People they call are told to wire money — another sure sign of a scam — with threats of legal action unless payment comes at once.

Another scheme involves a call saying the IRS “just needs a few details” to speed up the processing of your refund. The scammer tries to get personal information such as Social Security numbers, bank routing numbers or other sensitive data such as credit card numbers.

Human resources and payroll professionals have been targeted as well, through requests for information about employees. A scammer posing as the company’s CEO requests personal and financial information, including Social Security numbers.

In an effort to catch scammers and identity thieves, the IRS is delaying refunds this year for anyone claiming the earned income tax credit (EITC) or the additional child tax credit (ACTC). That move is expected to give the IRS added time to weed out more sophisticated fraudulent returns. It may also hurt lower income taxpayers who file early and likely will be waiting at least until late February for refunds. Offers to “help speed up your refund” may be more scams.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairs the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, which has published a guidebook on avoiding scams. Read it online at You also can call the committee’s fraud hotline (1-855-303-9470) for information or to report fraud attempts.

The IRS offers a summary of our legal protections in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights at

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 or email

Protect yourself against scams before filing taxes



Posted Jan. 25, 2016, at 11:18 a.m.
Federal officials have termed them the biggest scams ever. Together, they cost consumers billions of dollars every year. And they use people’s fear of the Internal Revenue Service as a weapon.

The first starts with an unexpected phone call. You’re told that you owe taxes and must pay immediately or you’ll be jailed. What do you do?

An IRS official says, just hang up … it’s a scam.

Hundreds of thousands of consumers have received multiple calls from different people, all posing as either IRS officials or law enforcement agents. All the callers claim that legal action is certain, unless they receive money via wire right away. A demand for immediate payment is the second tipoff that it’s a hoax.

The first was the threat of imprisonment.

The IRS does not typically call a taxpayer; the agency begins by sending a letter. It also does not seek payment by way of prepaid cards, and it does not have agents standing by with arrest warrants in case the taxpayer hesitates.

The criminals who use these techniques can be abusive, even threatening to hurt their victims. These hoax calls may originate halfway around the world — although a spoofed phone number may make them appear nearby — and any threatened action rarely happens.

The second major hoax involves the filing of a phony tax return. If a thief steals your name, birthdate and Social Security number, he or she can file a bogus return in your name. If the IRS doesn’t catch it, the agency might send a refund to the crook; it may not be until you file your legitimate return that the fraud is discovered.

The IRS has trained thousands of employees to help possible victims. It has also put in place a number of preventive measures, most of which it won’t discuss in order not to assist the scammers. In a public message last week, the IRS said it has teamed up with the states and tax preparers to “stop fraudulent returns at the door.”

One new piece of information from tax software providers will be the amount of time it took to prepare a return. That could be a tipoff when computer-generated returns are fraudulent and have been filed by the hundreds or thousands.

You can read about the new measures at,-States-and-Tax-Industry-Deploy-New-Safeguards-for-2016.

Tax season brings with it a rash of scam artists trying new ideas. Crooks might point to last year’s hack of IRS computers, which compromised some information of about 200,000 taxpayers. They might pose as “IRS counselors” or “credit advisers” while their real goal is to steal more personal data.

IRS officials suggest that tax preparers do a “deep scan” of all their computer drives and devices to find malware and viruses that may hide in places that a “quick scan” can’t find. Firewalls and antivirus software also should be up to date; if you use a tax preparer, don’t be shy about asking if security systems are robust.

If you store your tax filings on your computer, make sure there’s a backup in case your hard drive crashes. If you store paper copies, keep them under lock and key (ideally in a fireproof container). Find more security and identity protection tips at

If you get a phone call you suspect is a hoax attempt, call 800-366-4484 to find out if the caller is a real IRS employee with a legitimate reason to reach you. If a piece of mail seems suspicious, call 800-829-1040 to see if it’s legitimate.

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 or email

Identity thieves try to cash in during tax filing season


Posted Feb. 01, 2015, at 9:53 a.m.

click image to report scams, waste and abuse

Two headlines top the news near the start of this income tax season.

Thieves who steal Social Security numbers and other personal data do so in order to file phony tax returns and claim rebates they’re not owed.

And crooks posing as Internal Revenue Service officials are calling people and, in many cases, bullying them into sending money they don’t owe.

They use common names and all kinds of tricks. They may say they’re calling from the IRS criminal division. They might have technology that will spoof a caller ID, making it appear they’re calling from a real IRS office. They threaten those they consider easier targets — such as older people and recent immigrants — with fines, jail terms, job loss, even deportation.

The crooks do their homework before calling. They might know a person’s Social Security number — or at least the last four digits — and other personal details that lend credence to their pitch. Demanding immediate payment is a tipoff it’s a scam — the real IRS first would notify you by letter of any official action — and the agency never would demand payment by a debit card or wire transfer.

Losing a one-time payment is bad enough. Thousands of taxpayers have filed their income taxes only to find a crook has stolen their identities, filed fraudulently and collected their refunds illegally.

The IRS says after such discoveries, it takes an average of four months to get a refund to its rightful recipient. That person also needs to go through the hassle associated with identity theft. Perhaps ironically, prisoners’ Social Security numbers often are tempting targets, because inmates are less apt to be on top of their tax or banking activities.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, says it has received reports of 290,000 scam calls since October 2013, and nearly 3,000 victims have lost a total of $14 million. The IRS has been working to curb these crimes, saying it spotted 19 million suspicious returns since 2011 and prevented more than $63 billion in fraudulent returns. Read about ways to spot impersonators and report scams at

Consumers can and should take all the usual steps to prevent fraud: use firewalls and antivirus software, use strong passwords and change them often on all online accounts and reveal your Social Security number only when it’s absolutely necessary.

If you become a victim, the IRS says it wants to help. Read about the agency’s prevention and detection efforts at

The IRS is also warning consumers about unscrupulous preparers who push filers to make inflated claims. Often, these preparers will demand an up-front fee; they may also refuse to give the taxpayer a copy of the return. Both are things that legitimate tax preparation pros don’t do.

You may qualify for free help preparing your income tax filings. Seniors can check with AARP or the local agency on aging. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, program gives free tax help to people who make $53,000 or less, have disabilities, are older or who speak little English and need help preparing their returns.

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 or email

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


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 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

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 or email

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 (, specifically 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 (

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


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 ( 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,

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

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