Taking advantage of fears surrounding the Coronavirus!
We were warned by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that scammers would try to profit from the public’s anxiety over COVID-19. They sent warning letters to seven companies allegedly selling unapproved products and making deceptive or scientifically unsupported claims that their products can treat or prevent the Coronavirus. The companies are advertising products like teas, essential oils and colloidal silver as able to treat or prevent Coronavirus and according to the FDA, these companies have no evidence to back up their claims as required by law.
The Seven Companies are:
In the letters, these companies are required to notify the FTC within two days of the specific actions they have taken to address the agency’s concerns. The FTC and the FDA will follow up with the companies that fail to make adequate corrections. Additionally both agencies will continue to monitor social media, online marketplaces and incoming complaints to ensure that those companies do not continue to market fraudulent products under a different name or on other websites.
The agencies recommend that, should you be tempted to buy an unproven product or one with questionable claims, check with your doctor or other health care professional first and stay informed by visiting the CDC’s FAQ page or the FDA to learn about the development and approval of treatments for COVID-19. Finally, if you see a product claiming to cure, treat or prevent Coronavirus, report it to the FTC at www.ftc.gov/complaint.
MORE SCAMS: CORONAVIRUS Part 2
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is reporting more Coronavirus scams with steps we can take to protect ourselves, our personal information and our money.
Here are a few:
For more information, go to:
The IRS is warning taxpayers to avoid unethical tax return preparers, known as “ghost preparers”.
The Internal Revenue Service says that anyone who is paid to prepare or assist in preparing federal tax returns must have a valid 2019 Preparer Tax Identification Number, or PTIN. Paid preparers must sign the return and include their PTIN.
There are many types of tax return preparers, including certified public accountants (CPA’s), enrolled agents, attorneys and others who do not hold professional credentials. However, you expect your chosen preparer to be skilled in tax preparation and be able to accurately file your income tax return. You are also entrusting that person with your most sensitive, personal information about your marital status, your income, your children, your family’s social security numbers and other details of your financial life.
According to the IRS, most tax return preparers provide outstanding and professional tax service; however, each year, some taxpayers are damaged financially because they chose the wrong tax return preparer. We will share some tips from the IRS for choosing a tax preparer and how to avoid unethical “ghost” return preparers.
Ghost preparers do not sign the tax return. Instead, they print the return and tell the taxpayer to sign and mail it to the IRS and for e-filed returns, they prepare but refuse to digitally sign it as the paid preparer. The IRS further states that dishonest and unscrupulous “ghost” tax return preparers try to make fast money by promising a big refund or charging fees based on a percentage of the anticipated BIG refund. The “ghosts” may also require:
Taxpayers are cautioned to review their tax return carefully before signing and ask questions when something is not clear or confusing. And for direct deposit refund, taxpayers should verify that both the routing and bank account number on the completed tax return are correct.
The IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications can help identify many preparers by type of credential or qualification. Narrow your search by getting answers to a few important questions up front.
Q. What kind of tax preparer do I need?
A. Anyone can be a paid tax return preparer if they have an IRS Preparer Tax Identification number (PTIN). The IRS Choosing a Tax Professional page has information about tax preparer credentials and qualifications and get information on the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
Q. How to check a tax preparer’s credentials?
A. Check the professional organizations many tax preparers belong to and those who hold an Annual Filing Season Program Record of Completion.
Q. What if I have a complaint about a tax preparer?
A. Tax preparer fraud is among the list of common tax scams and the IRS is committed to investigating paid tax return preparers who act improperly. To report abusive tax preparers to the IRS, use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. If a taxpayer suspects a tax preparer filed or changed their tax return without their consent, the taxpayer should file Form 14157-A, Tax return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit.
FREE TAX RETURN PREPARATION FOR QUALIGYING TAXPAYERS:
The Volunteer income Tax assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to people who make $56,000 or less, people with disabilities and limited English speaking taxpayers needing assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals. Additionally, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, especially those age 60 and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors. These volunteers who provide tax counseling are usually retired individuals associated with non-profit organizations that receive grants from the IRS.
VITA and TCE sites are generally located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls and other convenient locations around the country. Call 800-906-9887 to locate the nearest VITA or TCE site near you and be mindful that a majority of TCE sites are operated by the AARP Foundation’s Tax Aide program. To locate the nearest AARP TCE Tax-Aide site between January and April, use the AARP Site Locator Tool or call 888-227-7669. At certain sites, taxpayers also have the option to prepare their own basic federal and state tax return for free using web-based tax preparation software with an IRS-certified volunteer to help guide taxpayers through the process.
Most IRS VITA and TCE sites are open from February through April though some are open through October.
If you are a victim of identity theft or suspect that someone is using your name or personal information to make purchases or get credit, act immediately to prevent or minimize the damage!
First Step: FILE A POLICE REPORT.
The Federal Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act criminalizes fraud in connection with the theft and misuse of someone else’s personal data. Keep a copy of the report for submission to the credit card companies and other creditors for verification that a crime was reported. Call your creditors and explain that someone stole your identity and request that they close or freeze your accounts, then change your login information, passwords and PIN numbers.
Contact the three Credit Reporting Agencies/Credit Bureaus to place a fraud alert and get your credit reports. A fraud alert lasts one year and you’ll get a letter from each credit bureau confirming the fraud alert in your credit file which will make it harder for someone to open new accounts in your name.
Go to annualcreditreport.com to request free copies of your credit reports every twelve months or call 877-322-8228.
Get updates at IdentityTheft.gov/creditbureaucontacts
Review your credit reports and take note of accounts and transactions you do not recognize. Next, report the identity theft to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) by going to IdentityTheft.gov or call 877-438-4338. IdentityTheft.gov will create your Identity Theft Report and recovery plan.
This report guarantees you certain rights which include:
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act a/k/a “The FACT Act” provides consumer protections to assist victims of fraud and it includes: Fraud Alerts, Extended fraud alerts, Duty to Honor Fraud alerts, Block Trade Lines, Prevent Re-pollution, Prohibit Selling or Placing for Collection Identity Theft Debt, Notification Duties on Debt Collectors, Access to Business Records, Access to Credit scores, Notification of Negative Information to Customers, Time Restriction on Reinvestigations, Dispute Information with Reporters, New standards for Furnishers, Address Verification and Truncation of Numbers.
CLOSE ALL NEW ACCOUNTS OPENED IN YOUR NAME AND CALL THE FRAUD DEPARTMENT OF EACH BUSINESS WHERE AN ACCOUNT WAS OPENED.
Explain that your identity was stolen, ask the business to close the account and send you a letter confirming that the fraudulent account is not yours, that you’re not liable for it and that it was removed from your credit report. Keep this letter for use if the fraudulent account appears on your credit report later on. Also, keep a record of who you contacted and the date of contact.
REMOVE BOGUS CHARGES FROM YOUR ACCOUNTS BY CALLING THE FRAUD DEPARTMENT OF EACH BUSINESS.
Explain that you are the victim of identity theft, tell them which charges are fraudulent and request that they be removed. Again request from the business, a letter confirming that the fraudulent charges are removed and keep the letter for use should the account re-appear on your credit report in the future.
CORRECT YOUR CREDIT REPORT BY COMPLETING “IDENTITY THEFT LETTER TO A CREDIT BUREAU” FORM AND MAILING TO THE THREE CREDIT BUREAUS.
Include with the letter a copy of your Identity Theft Report, proof of your identity, explain which information on your report is fraudulent and request that the information be blocked. Mail letters to:
REPORT A MISUSED SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER BY CONTACTING YOUR LOCAL SSA OFFICE.
STOP DEBT COLLECTORS FROM TRYING TO COLLECT DEBTS YOU DON’T OWE.
REPLACE GOVERNMENT-ISSUED ID’S.
You may have to contact additional offices (e.g. Utilities, Telephone, Government Benefits, Checking Accounts, Student loans, Apartment/ House Rentals, Investment Accounts). Maybe even a fraudulent Bankruptcy filing.
Last Note: Go to OnGuardOnline.gov to learn how to avoid internet fraud, secure your computer and protect your personal information!
Can you benefit from the $575 million settlement?
Let’s find out!
September 2017, the announcement by Equifax that a data breach occurred exposing the personal information of 147 million people caused much anxiety in the financial industry and consumers in general. Subsequently, the company agreed to a global settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), The Consumer Financial Protection bureau (CFPB) and 50 U.S states and territories. It includes approximately $425 million to assist people affected by the breach.
How do you know your personal information was exposed? Go to the look-up tool to check https://eligibility.equifaxbreachsettlement.com/en/eligibility and you can file a claim.
Some benefits from the settlement
Free Credit Monitoring and Identity Theft Protection Services:
Up to 10 years of free credit monitoring or $125 if you decide not to enroll because you already have credit monitoring. The free credit monitoring includes (a) At least four years of free monitoring of your credit report at all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) and $1,000,000 of identity theft insurance (b) Up to six more years of free monitoring of your Equifax credit report. Also, if you were a minor in May 2017, you’re eligible for a total of 18 years of free credit monitoring.
Cash Payments (capped at $20,000 per person)
For expenses you paid as a result of the breach, like: (a) losses from unauthorized charges to your accounts (b) the cost of freezing or unfreezing your credit report (c) the cost of credit monitoring (d) fees you paid to professionals like an accountant or attorney (e) other expenses like notary fees, document shipping fees and postage, mileage and phone charges.
For the time you spent dealing with the breach, you can be compensated $25 per hour up to 20 hours.
Even if you do not file a claim, you can get:
Free Help Recovering from Identity Theft
For at least seven years, you can get free identity restoration services. And if you discover misuse of your personal information, call the settlement administrator at 1-833-759-2982. You will be given instructions for how to access free identity restoration services.
Free Credit Reports for All U.S. Consumers
Starting in 2020, all U.S. consumers can get six free credit reports per year for seven years from the Equifax website in addition to the one free Equifax report (plus your Experian and Trans Union reports) you usually get at annualcreditreport.com.
Please sign up for e-mail updates to get a reminder in early 2020.
THE CLAIMS PROCESS HAS STARTED. YOU MUST FILE BY JANUARY 22, 2020
Answers to some important questions:
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: WWW.EQUIFAXBREACHSETTLEMENT.COM OR CALL 1-833-759-2982.
BEWARE OF FAKE SETTLEMENT WEBSITES
To be sure you’re going to the right place, start at the (Federal Trade Commission’s) FTC’s page: ftc.gov/Equifax (https://www.ftc.gov/Equifax).
DO NOT PAY TO FILE A CLAIM FOR THESE BENEFITS. ANYONE CALLING TO TRY TO CHARGE FOR FILING A CLAIM IS A SCAMMER!!!
You can also sign up to get FTC email updates about the settlement: (https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/USFTC/subscriber/new?topic id=USFTC 109)
If you were affected by the breach, you may also receive an e-mail notification after the court approves the settlement. Ftc.gov/Equifax (https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/cases-proceedings/refunds/equifax-data-breach-settlment)
EASIEST WAY TO SUBMIT A CLAIM IS ONLINE AT WWW.EquifaxBreachSettlement.com OR COMPLETE AND MAIL THE CLAIM FORM TO THEIS MAILING ADDRESS:
EQUIFAX DATA BREACH SETTLEMENT
C/O JND LEGAL ADMINISTRATION
P.O. BOX 91318
SEATTLE, WA 98111-9418
June 1st begins hurricane season!
A weather emergency can force you to leave your home without money, ID’s, debit or credit cards and other important items, so here are some practical steps to begin your financial recovery.
The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) reports that “a typical organization loses a median of 5% of revenue each year due to fraud.” So, what is Your best protection against scammers? Learn the signs of scams that target businesses!
Here are a few of the scammer’s tactics:
Here’s a list of some common scams that target small business:
How Do You Protect Your Business?
According to Credit Builders Alliance, “consumer protection took a big hit in 2018. With a focus on deregulation, rules to protect consumers have been rolled back or delayed and investigations into financial firm’s anti-consumer practices have been slashed, leaving consumers more susceptible to scams and misleading deals.”
To this end, the Federal Trade Commission reports that scammers pretending to be from the federal government are scaring international students into paying them money. The callers typically know the foreign student’s immigration status and the school or program the student is attending. The pretend government official will say there’s a problem with the student’s immigration documents or visa renewal and then will demand immediate payment, often thousands of dollars, for a fee or bogus immigration bond. These callers make threats, including arrest or deportation, if the students do not pay and ask to be paid in cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin or gift cards, like Google Play or iTunes).
The FTC warns that these are scam calls. The federal government do not make such calls, do not make such threats and do not ask for such payments. If you’re concerned about your visa or immigration documentation, call USCIS’s National Customer Service Center at 800-375-5283 or go to ftc.gov/complaint (http://ftc/complaint) if a scammer has contacted you or someone you know.
Additional Consumer Tips for Immigrants
Safe and affordable savings and checking accounts:
Free Business courses: Available in Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Korean, Haitian Creole, French, Bengali and Arabic through NYC’s Immigrant Business Initiative at https://www.nyc.gov/immigrantbusinesses or call 311 and ask for Business Services for Immigrants.
It’s tax season, folks! You know what that means, right? There have been some significant changes that will affect individuals and businesses beginning after December 31, 2017. This month’s blog will review some of these updates.
"The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act” is the biggest federal tax law change in over 30 years. As a result, people are understandably apprehensive and some of us are even a little confused. Before getting started, let’s review some terms to remember:
AGI = Adjusted Gross Income
AMT = Alternative Minimum Tax
HOH = Head of Household
MFJ = Married Filing Joint
MFS = Married Filing Single
NOLs = Net Operating Losses
PSCs = Personal Service Corporations
QW = Qualified Widower
SMFS = Single or Married Filing Separate
Tax Provisions that were eliminated:
The 2018 standard deduction is:
Tax provisions that were eliminated:
THESE ARE THE FACTS AND FIGURES, PLEASE CONSULT WITH YOUR TAX ATTORNEY OF PREPARER FOR ADVICE REGARDING THE TAX EFFECTS OF THE “TAX CUTS AND JOBS ACT” ON YOUR PERSONAL FINANCIAL PORTFOLIO!
Have you been affected by the U.S. government shutdown? Are you experiencing financial difficulties? If this is your case, then read through the various solutions to manage through this difficult time.
Should you consider accessing funds from your 401(k) plan during a financial emergency through a loan or hardship withdrawal to help solve an immediate need, be aware of consequences that can affect your long-term financial security. Let’s look at a few:
Many plans permit loans that you repay through payroll deductions as long as you remain employed. You’re borrowing your own money. Normally the term of a 401(k) loan is five years unless the money is used for the purchase of a primary residence, then some plans will allow borrowing for a 25 year term.
Advantages and disadvantages of borrowing from your 401(k) account.
The plus side:
The negative side:
The IRS allows withdrawals from the 401(k) for certain financial emergencies. However, it’s up to your employer to determine the specific criteria for a hardship withdrawal. These circumstances are:
You should consider a withdrawal from your 401(k) as a last resort!
Companies often prohibit contributions for at least six months after taking a withdrawal and those hardship distributions permanently reduce your account balance. Please remember that taxes are due on the amount you withdraw and will incur the 10 percent penalty if you’re under age 59 1/2. Additionally your plan administrator may follow up after the withdrawal to verify that the funds were used for the purpose indicated on your application.
Finally, you cannot be forced to use your 401(k) money to pay state and local income taxes, property taxes or other taxes, however, a court may order you to withdraw money from your 401(k) to pay child support, alimony and federal income taxes owed.
State and federal laws differ, so seek legal advice to determine which will apply.
Not everyone who applies for credit, gets credit!
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), prohibits credit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age or because a person receives public assistance.
Creditors may ask for most of this information when necessary but they may not use it when setting the terms of credit decisions. Other factors, including income, expenses, debts and credit history are considered by lenders to determine creditworthiness. The ECOA provide protections when dealing with people and organizations like banks, financial companies, retail and department stores, credit card companies and credit unions who regularly extend credit to the public. Everyone involved in making decisions to give credit or in setting the terms of credit MUST comply with the ECOA.
Some basic provisions of The ECOA:
When applying for credit, Creditors may not…
When deciding to grant you credit or when setting the terms of credit, Creditors may not...
When evaluating your income, Creditors may not...
You also have the right to…
A Special Note to Women…
A good credit history is often necessary to get credit. This can hurt many married, separated, divorced or widowed women. There are two common reasons women do not have credit histories in their own names: either they lost their credit histories when they married and change their names, or creditors reported accounts shared by married couples in the husband’s name only.
If married, separated, divorced or widowed, contact the credit reporting agencies to verify that all relevant information in in a file under your own name. Credit reporting companies sell the information in your credit report to creditors, insurers, employers and other businesses who use it to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment or renting a home.
**The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the three credit reporting companies, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax to give you a free copy of your credit report, at your request once every 12 months online via annualcreditreport.com or by phone at 877-322-8228.
If you suspect a Creditor has discriminated against you…
Denise Garrett is a financial counselor at the LDCENY and has more than 25 years experience in financial counseling and retail banking.