Camel Cigarettes

Consumer Archives

FTC pulling the plug on robocalls

Federal Trade Commission: Disaster Recovery

Wiring Money

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NWDA Consumer Protection Division Case Manager Caroline Smith

From Fraud.org: Scammers demanding untraceable cash

Scam artists are typically interested in one thing above all else: getting paid. They are out to make a quick buck (or many millions of bucks) by tricking consumers in to sending them money, especially if they can quickly turn it into untraceable cash. Over the years, wire transfer has been the method of choice for fraudsters looking to get paid by their victims. Recently, however, there has been an uptick in consumer complaints to Fraud.org reporting that scammers are asking them to use Green Dot MoneyPaks or Vanilla Reloads.

MoneyPaks and Vanilla Reloads are sold at thousands of major retailers. Users purchase the MoneyPak or Vanilla Reload and give cash to the clerk at the register to load on to them. By using the control number or PIN on the back of the card, the consumer can then add the funds onto a reloadable prepaid card or pay a MoneyPak or Vanilla Reload partner company directly.

While the misuse of MoneyPaks, Vanilla Reloads, or similar payment mechanisms isn’t new, NCL has received a significant number of complaints so far this year. The story of a consumer we’ll call “Chris,” who sent us complaint earlier this year is typical:

“The man called my place of business to say that my previous payment on my bill didn’t go through and that my business’s electricity would be shut off that day. … He requested that we pay only Green Dot MoneyPak. He even called me back to make sure I was going to pay it. He said I would get a call in 30 minutes from [the] reimbursement center for the card fees. I then realized that this was a scam and it was too late.”

These payment mechanisms have become popular with scammers because they are essentially the same as carrying cash. Fraudsters trick consumers into giving them the control number or PIN, which the scammer then uses to load the funds onto their own prepaid debit card. Since the funds are available instantly, the thief can use their debit card to take cash out of ATMs. These services aren’t protected from fraud the way that credit or debit cards are, the victim is typically left with nothing.

NCL is warning consumers to be on the lookout for scams where they are asked to load cash onto a MoneyPak, Vanilla Reload, or similar cash-based payment device. Only give out the control number or PIN to approved partners of these services (a list of these partners is available on the companies’ websites). Be sure to only load funds from a MoneyPak or Vanilla Reload onto a prepaid debit card that you or someone you know controls. If you receive a telephone call or email from someone claiming that you’ve won a prize, but need to pay a fee via MoneyPak or Vanilla Reload to collect it, it’s a scam. Also be wary of callers claiming to represent bill collectors, the IRS, or other companies who ask for payment on one of these devices.

Consumers who have been approached by a scammer can file a complaint at Fraud.org.

IDENTITY THEFT 

IFrame

IFrame

 

Click HERE for tips from the Federal Trade Commission to Avoid Identity Theft.

***

IRS Releases the “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams for 2014; Identity Theft, Phone Scams Lead List

Feb. 19, 2014

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today issued its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams, reminding taxpayers to use caution during tax season to protect themselves against a wide range of schemes ranging from identity theft to return preparer fraud.

The Dirty Dozen listing, compiled by the IRS each year, lists a variety of common scams taxpayers can encounter at any point during the year. But many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns.

"Taxpayers should be on the lookout for tax scams using the IRS name,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “These schemes jump every year at tax time. Scams can be sophisticated and take many different forms. We urge people to protect themselves and use caution when viewing e-mails, receiving telephone calls or getting advice on tax issues.”

Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

For the list of 12 scurrilous scams, visit: "IRS Releases the Dirty Dozen" 

***

 

IRS Warns of Pervasive Telephone Scam

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today warned consumers about a sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, throughout the country.

Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.

“This scam has hit taxpayers in nearly every state in the country.  We want to educate taxpayers so they can help protect themselves.  Rest assured, we do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer,” says IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel. “If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling.” Werfel noted that the first IRS contact with taxpayers on a tax issue is likely to occur via mail

Other characteristics of this scam include:

·       Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.

·       Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security Number.

·       Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.

·       Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.

·       Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.

·       After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:

·       If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue – if there really is such an issue.

·       If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1.800.366.4484.

·       If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov.  Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.

Taxpayers should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information.  This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts. Recipients should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the e-mail tophishing@irs.gov.

More information on how to report phishing scams involving the IRS is available on the genuine IRS website, IRS.gov.

See also: the FTC's Tax-related identity theft

 

Mystery Shopper Scam Strikes Again!

By Amy Hebert, FTC Consumer Education Specialist

It sounds pretty good: you walk into a store like any other customer. Then 20 minutes later, you’re done, ready to write a report that will earn you $50. And then you can do it again.

If Shopper Systems and some companies like it were to be believed, mystery shopping jobs like this were not only widely available, but could generate “insane profit.” All for just $2.95 for training and a week’s trial, then $49.95 a month after that for an up-to-date list of interested retailers — and you’d be free to cancel any time.

But they couldn’t be believed, the FTC says. According to the FTC’s complaint, people who paid to be mystery shoppers found there were few, if any, jobs in their area. And the jobs that did exist paid a lot less than $50. People who tried to cancel found they were still charged $49.95 a month, not knowing they were also enrolled in a second “opportunity” running their own webstore.

The companies and people behind the alleged scam have agreed to settlements with the FTC that ban them from selling business or work-at-home opportunities and require them to surrender assets to the FTC.

Legitimate mystery shopping opportunities are out there, but so are plenty of scams. Don’t pay to be a mystery shopper — information about mystery shopping jobs should be free, and certifications offered are often of little value. Many professionals in the field consider mystery shopping a part-time activity, at best, and opportunities generally are posted online by marketing research or merchandising companies.

 

Want to learn more about these kinds of scams and get tips on finding legitimate mystery shopping jobs? Read Mystery Shopper Scams at ftc.gov/bizopps.

Top 5 Cyber Monday Safety Tips       

What to Know Before Shopping Online This Holiday Season

The internet makes holiday shopping so easy—no fighting for parking spaces at jam-packed malls, no waiting in endless lines to get to the register.

But even if you consider yourself a pro, shopping online isn't without risks. These tips from USA.gov can help you protect yourself and your finances as you hunt for that perfect gift:

1. Use a credit card rather than a debit card. Credit card payments can be withheld if there's a dispute with a store, and if the card is stolen, you won't have to pay more than $50 of fraudulent charges. But with a debit card, you can't withhold payments—the store is paid directly from your bank account. And if your card is stolen, you could be liable for up to $500, depending on when you report it.

2. Find out if the public WiFi hotspot you're using at a coffee shop or bookstore is secure. If it's not, your payment information could be compromised over the network.

3. It's risky not to read the terms of service agreement before you buy online. You could inadvertently sign up for subscriptions or get hit with additional fees or restrictions. Terms of service are often in small print or presented right when you are anxious to purchase.

4. Be careful if you're buying event tickets online as gifts. Some venues may practice restricted ticketing, requiring the same credit card used in the online purchase to be shown to get into the event.

5. Use caution buying digital assets like books and music—they can't be given away as gifts if they've been downloaded to your account. You should either purchase a gift card for the book or music site, or check with the company. Some services have ways to "gift an item" but it varies depending on the provider.

For more advice on safe online shopping and being a savvy consumer this holiday season and all year long, check out the Consumer Action Handbook–the free government guide to protecting your money.

 

Hang up on Robocalls!

From the Federal Trade Commission:

The FTC's Robocall Action Plan

Under the Telemarketing Sales Rule, calls that deliver a recorded message trying to sell you something are illegal, unless you’ve given written permission for the caller to call you.  These “robocalls” are illegal even if your phone number is not registered on the National Do Not Call Registry

Most legitimate businesses adhere to the Telemarketing Sales Rule and do not place illegal robocalls.  Unfortunately, however, the prevalence of illegal robocalls has increased significantly in recent years due to technological advances that make it easier and cheaper to:

  • make large numbers of robocalls to consumers from anywhere in the world
  • fake Caller ID information in an attempt to obscure location and evade law enforcement

The FTC is working on multiple initiatives to combat the problem of illegal robocalls, including:

  1. Continuing Aggressive Law Enforcement
    The Federal Trade Commission continues to target high volume offenders and pursue “chokepoints” in the calling process to stop the largest number of illegal calls. The agency has stopped companies responsible for making billions of robocalls since September of 2009, and will continue to identify, locate, and prosecute those responsible for illegal robocalls.
  2. Gathering Evidence Strategically
    The FTC is pursuing an innovative strategy to gather evidence about illegal robocalls directly and act on this information as quickly as possible.  Check this website for more details in the next few months.
  3. Pursuing Technological Solutions
    FTC staff continue to hold meetings and calls with engineers, technologists, and industry experts to discuss technological solutions to better trace illegal calls, combat caller ID spoofing, and stop illegal calls.
  4. Hosting Summit with Law Enforcement, Industry, and Other Stakeholders
    On October 18, 2012, the agency will host a public summit on robocalls. Check here later for further details.What to Do If You
    Get a RobocallTo Do When You Get One

What's a Robocall?

If you pick up the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, that's a robocall.

If the recording is a sales message and you haven't given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal. Period.

What To Do When You Get a Robocall

In short:

  1. Hang Up. Do not press 1 or any other numbers to get off the list.
  2. Consider blocking the number.
  3. Report it at www.donotcall.gov.

For more info on what to do:

Spread the News and Shareable Tips:

 From the Federal Trade Commission:

FTC Settlement Bans Bogus Timeshare Resellers from Timeshare Business, Telemarketing

Defendants Allegedly Did Not Help Consumers Sell Their Timeshare Properties as Promised 

A telemarketing operation that allegedly deceived consumers who were trying to sell their timeshare properties is permanently banned from the timeshare resale and rental business, and from all telemarketing, under settlements with the Federal Trade Commission. The case is part of the FTC's ongoing effort to crack down on con artists who use fraud and deception to take advantage of consumers in financial distress.

According to the FTC's complaint against Vacation Property Sellers Inc., Vacation Property Services Inc., Higher Level Marketing Inc., Frank M. Perry, Jr., David S. Taylor, and Albert M. Wilson, the defendants deceived consumers who were trying to sell their timeshare properties into paying an up-front fee ranging from $200 to more than $8,000, claiming they had buyers lined up or would find buyers for consumers' properties. When consumers realized they had been duped, the defendants allegedly ignored their phone calls and denied refund requests. The FTC charged the defendants with misrepresenting their refund policies and the existence of potential buyers, and calling consumers whose phone numbers were on the FTC's Do Not Call Registry.

In addition to the timeshare and telemarketing bans, the settlement order against Perry, Vacation Property Sellers, and Higher Level Marketing prohibits them from misrepresenting material facts about any goods or services, and selling or otherwise benefitting from consumers' personal information. The order imposes a $23.5 million judgment that was suspended when Perry and the companies surrendered almost all of their assets. The settlement order against Taylor contains the same conduct prohibitions and imposes a $3.7 million judgment, which was suspended based on his inability to pay. The full judgments will become due immediately if the defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial condition. Litigation continues against the remaining defendants, Vacation Property Services Inc. and Albert M. Wilson.

To avoid pitfalls when selling a timeshare unit, read the FTC's Selling a Timeshare Through a Reseller: Contract Caveats.

The Commission vote approving the proposed consent order against Perry, Vacation Property Sellers, and Higher Level Marketing was 5-0. The Commission vote approving the proposed consent order against Taylor was 3-1, with Commissioner Rosch voting in the negative. The orders were entered by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, on September 30, 2011, and March 20, 2012, respectively.

NOTE: This consent order is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendants that the law has been violated. Consent orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. 

Selling a Timeshare Through a Reseller: Contract Caveats

Thinking of selling your timeshare? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, cautions you to question resellers – real estate brokers and agents who specialize in reselling timeshares. They may be claiming that the market in your area is “hot” and that they’re overwhelmed with buyer requests. Some may even say that they have buyers ready to purchase your timeshare, or promise to sell your timeshare within a specific time.

If you want to sell your deeded timeshare, and a company approaches you offering to resell your timeshare, go into skeptic mode:

  • Don’t agree to anything on the phone or online until you’ve had a chance to check out the reseller. Contact the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), state Attorney General (www.naag.org), and local consumer protection agencies (www.consumeraction.gov) in the state where the reseller is located. Ask if any complaints are on file.
  • Ask the salesperson for all information in writing.
  • Ask if the reseller’s agents are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located. If so, verify it with the state Real Estate Commission. Deal only with licensed real estate brokers and agents, and ask for references from satisfied clients.
  • Ask how the reseller will advertise and promote the timeshare unit. Will you get progress reports? How often?
  • Ask about fees and timing. It’s preferable to do business with a reseller that takes its fee after the timeshare is sold. If you must pay a fee in advance, ask about refunds. Get refund policies and promises in writing.
  • Don’t assume you’ll recoup your purchase price for your timeshare, especially if you’ve owned it for less than five years and the location is less than well-known.

If you want an idea of the value of a timeshare that you’re interested in buying or selling, consider using a timeshare appraisal service. The appraiser should be licensed in the state where the service is located. Check with the state to see if the license is current.

Contract Caveats

Before you sign a contract with a reseller, get the details of the terms and conditions of the contract. It should include the services the reseller will perform; the fees, commissions, and other costs you must pay and when; whether you can rent or sell the timeshare on your own at the same time the reseller is trying to sell your unit; the length or term of the contract to sell your timeshare; and who is responsible for documenting and closing the sale.

If the deal isn’t what you expected or wanted, don’t sign the contract. Negotiate changes or find another reseller.

Resale Checklist

Selling a timeshare is a lot like selling any other piece of real estate. But you also should check with the resort to determine restrictions, limits, or fees that could affect your ability to resell or transfer ownership. Then, make sure that your paperwork is in order. You’ll need:

  • the name, address, and phone number of the resort;
  • the deed and the contract or membership agreement;
  • the financing agreement, if you’re still paying for the property;
  • information to identify your interest or membership;
  • the exchange company affiliation;
  • the amount and due date of your maintenance fee;
  • the amount of real estate taxes, if billed separately.
  • Selling a Timeshare Through a Reseller: Contract Caveats

    Thinking of selling your timeshare? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, cautions you to question resellers – real estate brokers and agents who specialize in reselling timeshares. They may be claiming that the market in your area is “hot” and that they’re overwhelmed with buyer requests. Some may even say that they have buyers ready to purchase your timeshare, or promise to sell your timeshare within a specific time.

    If you want to sell your deeded timeshare, and a company approaches you offering to resell your timeshare, go into skeptic mode:

    • Don’t agree to anything on the phone or online until you’ve had a chance to check out the reseller. Contact the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), state Attorney General (www.naag.org), and local consumer protection agencies (www.consumeraction.gov) in the state where the reseller is located. Ask if any complaints are on file.
    • Ask the salesperson for all information in writing.
    • Ask if the reseller’s agents are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located. If so, verify it with the state Real Estate Commission. Deal only with licensed real estate brokers and agents, and ask for references from satisfied clients.
    • Ask how the reseller will advertise and promote the timeshare unit. Will you get progress reports? How often?
    • Ask about fees and timing. It’s preferable to do business with a reseller that takes its fee after the timeshare is sold. If you must pay a fee in advance, ask about refunds. Get refund policies and promises in writing.
    • Don’t assume you’ll recoup your purchase price for your timeshare, especially if you’ve owned it for less than five years and the location is less than well-known.

    If you want an idea of the value of a timeshare that you’re interested in buying or selling, consider using a timeshare appraisal service. The appraiser should be licensed in the state where the service is located. Check with the state to see if the license is current.

    Contract Caveats

    Before you sign a contract with a reseller, get the details of the terms and conditions of the contract. It should include the services the reseller will perform; the fees, commissions, and other costs you must pay and when; whether you can rent or sell the timeshare on your own at the same time the reseller is trying to sell your unit; the length or term of the contract to sell your timeshare; and who is responsible for documenting and closing the sale.

    If the deal isn’t what you expected or wanted, don’t sign the contract. Negotiate changes or find another reseller.

    Resale Checklist

    Selling a timeshare is a lot like selling any other piece of real estate. But you also should check with the resort to determine restrictions, limits, or fees that could affect your ability to resell or transfer ownership. Then, make sure that your paperwork is in order. You’ll need:

    • the name, address, and phone number of the resort;
    • the deed and the contract or membership agreement;
    • the financing agreement, if you’re still paying for the property;
    • information to identify your interest or membership;
    • the exchange company affiliation;
    • the amount and due date of your maintenance fee;
    • the amount of real estate taxes, if billed separately.

    For More Information

    To learn more about vacation ownership, contact the American Resort Development Association. It represents the vacation ownership and resort development industries. ARDA has nearly 1,000 members, ranging from privately-held companies to major corporations, in the U.S. and overseas.

    American Resort Development Association
    1201 15th Street N.W., Suite 400
    Washington, D.C. 20005
    (202) 371-6700; Fax: (202) 289-8544
    www.arda.org

    To File a Complaint

    Timesharing is usually regulated through the Real Estate Commission in the state where the timeshare property is located. The sale of vacation plans generally is not regulated at all. However, if you believe you’ve been the victim of false or deceptive advertising or marketing of a vacation plan, contact the FTC.

      The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Watch a video, How to File a Complaint, at ftc.gov/video to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.  

    As we work to put an end to predatory behavior in our financial markets, my Administration is taking action to empower individuals and families with the tools they need to get ahead. Last year, we collaborated with representatives from the private, public, and non-profit industries to release the National Strategy for Financial Literacy -- a comprehensive plan to improve financial education across our country. The President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability (PACFC) continues to identify and promote the most effective, data-driven strategies to better educate Americans on financial issues. With help from the PACFC, we are working to provide our young people with financial skills to become successful students, entrepreneurs, and leaders; to ensure American workers are able to provide for their loved ones and save for retirement; and to foster financial capability in families and communities across our Nation.__________________________________Tips from the United States Department of State:

    Sending Money to U.S. Citizens Overseas

    U.S. citizens sometimes face emergencies while overseas. We can establish a secure account so that friends and relatives can safely send money to help. The stranded U.S. citizen can then contact the Embassy to make an appointment to receive the money. We charge a fee of $30 to process the money transfer.

    Money can be transferred by Western Union or mail. You always need to include the U.S. citizen’s name and location (city and country) on the transfer. We can process these transfers during business hours (8AM – 8PM EST). If we receive a transfer after hours, we will process it the next business day.

    Western Union: This is usually the fastest way to send money. Be aware that some States place restrictions on the use of QuickCollect by phone or the Internet. Western Union can inform you of the States with these restrictions. There are three ways to send money to us:

    • If you have a MasterCard or Visa credit card, you can call Western Union’s QuickCollect service at 1-800-634-3422. Western Union has a limit per credit card within a 7 day period. A second credit card may be required to send an additional amount over the first during the same 7 day period.
      • The “code city” is “OVERSEASEMERGENCY, DC.”
      • The “pay to” name is “Department of State.”
      • Use your telephone number as the account number.
      • Ask the operator to add the name and location of the U.S. citizen you are sending money to in the “reference” field.
      • Click on “Make Payment.”
      • Choose a payment type.
      • Choose “Other Billers.”
      • Select code city “OVERSEAS CITIZEN SERVICES.”
      • Follow the instructions to register.
    • If you want to pay in cash, you can visit any Western Union location in person:
      • This is the cheapest way to send money.
      • Call 1-800-325-6000 to find the closest location.
      • Complete a blue payment form.
      • Include the name and location of the U.S. citizen you are sending money to on the form.
      • We will deduct our $30 processing fee during the transfer.
      • The final amount received overseas will be $30 less than what you send so you should include it in the total.
      • Western Union charges additional fees for its services.
    • U.S. Mail or Courier Service:  Overnight or courier mail may take 3-4 days to reach us. Regular mail may take 3-4 weeks to reach us, due to security procedures.  We do not recommend this method for urgent situations or emergencies.
    • We do not accept personal checks. Send a cashier’s check or money order, payable to “Department of State,” for the required amount plus the $30 processing fee, to:

    Overseas Citizen Services, Department of State
    SA-29, 4th Floor
    2201 C Street, NW
    Washington, D.C.  20520

      • Include the name and location of the U.S. citizen you are sending money to.
      • Include your name, address and telephone number.

     

    From the Federal Trade Commission:

    FTC Settlement Bans Bogus Timeshare Resellers from Timeshare Business, Telemarketing

    Defendants Allegedly Did Not Help Consumers Sell Their Timeshare Properties as Promised 

    Selling a Timeshare Through a Reseller: Contract Caveats

    Thinking of selling your timeshare? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, cautions you to question resellers – real estate brokers and agents who specialize in reselling timeshares. They may be claiming that the market in your area is “hot” and that they’re overwhelmed with buyer requests. Some may even say that they have buyers ready to purchase your timeshare, or promise to sell your timeshare within a specific time.

    If you want to sell your deeded timeshare, and a company approaches you offering to resell your timeshare, go into skeptic mode:

    • Don’t agree to anything on the phone or online until you’ve had a chance to check out the reseller. Contact the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), state Attorney General (www.naag.org), and local consumer protection agencies (www.consumeraction.gov) in the state where the reseller is located. Ask if any complaints are on file.
    • Ask the salesperson for all information in writing.
    • Ask if the reseller’s agents are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located. If so, verify it with the state Real Estate Commission. Deal only with licensed real estate brokers and agents, and ask for references from satisfied clients.
    • Ask how the reseller will advertise and promote the timeshare unit. Will you get progress reports? How often?
    • Ask about fees and timing. It’s preferable to do business with a reseller that takes its fee after the timeshare is sold. If you must pay a fee in advance, ask about refunds. Get refund policies and promises in writing.
    • Don’t assume you’ll recoup your purchase price for your timeshare, especially if you’ve owned it for less than five years and the location is less than well-known.

    If you want an idea of the value of a timeshare that you’re interested in buying or selling, consider using a timeshare appraisal service. The appraiser should be licensed in the state where the service is located. Check with the state to see if the license is current.

    Contract Caveats

    Before you sign a contract with a reseller, get the details of the terms and conditions of the contract. It should include the services the reseller will perform; the fees, commissions, and other costs you must pay and when; whether you can rent or sell the timeshare on your own at the same time the reseller is trying to sell your unit; the length or term of the contract to sell your timeshare; and who is responsible for documenting and closing the sale.

    If the deal isn’t what you expected or wanted, don’t sign the contract. Negotiate changes or find another reseller.

    Resale Checklist

    Selling a timeshare is a lot like selling any other piece of real estate. But you also should check with the resort to determine restrictions, limits, or fees that could affect your ability to resell or transfer ownership. Then, make sure that your paperwork is in order. You’ll need:

    • the name, address, and phone number of the resort;
    • the deed and the contract or membership agreement;
    • the financing agreement, if you’re still paying for the property;
    • information to identify your interest or membership;
    • the exchange company affiliation;
    • the amount and due date of your maintenance fee;
    • the amount of real estate taxes, if billed separately.
    • Selling a Timeshare Through a Reseller: Contract Caveats

      Thinking of selling your timeshare? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, cautions you to question resellers – real estate brokers and agents who specialize in reselling timeshares. They may be claiming that the market in your area is “hot” and that they’re overwhelmed with buyer requests. Some may even say that they have buyers ready to purchase your timeshare, or promise to sell your timeshare within a specific time.

      If you want to sell your deeded timeshare, and a company approaches you offering to resell your timeshare, go into skeptic mode:

      • Don’t agree to anything on the phone or online until you’ve had a chance to check out the reseller. Contact the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), state Attorney General (www.naag.org), and local consumer protection agencies (www.consumeraction.gov) in the state where the reseller is located. Ask if any complaints are on file.
      • Ask the salesperson for all information in writing.
      • Ask if the reseller’s agents are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located. If so, verify it with the state Real Estate Commission. Deal only with licensed real estate brokers and agents, and ask for references from satisfied clients.
      • Ask how the reseller will advertise and promote the timeshare unit. Will you get progress reports? How often?
      • Ask about fees and timing. It’s preferable to do business with a reseller that takes its fee after the timeshare is sold. If you must pay a fee in advance, ask about refunds. Get refund policies and promises in writing.
      • Don’t assume you’ll recoup your purchase price for your timeshare, especially if you’ve owned it for less than five years and the location is less than well-known.

      If you want an idea of the value of a timeshare that you’re interested in buying or selling, consider using a timeshare appraisal service. The appraiser should be licensed in the state where the service is located. Check with the state to see if the license is current.

      Contract Caveats

      Before you sign a contract with a reseller, get the details of the terms and conditions of the contract. It should include the services the reseller will perform; the fees, commissions, and other costs you must pay and when; whether you can rent or sell the timeshare on your own at the same time the reseller is trying to sell your unit; the length or term of the contract to sell your timeshare; and who is responsible for documenting and closing the sale.

      If the deal isn’t what you expected or wanted, don’t sign the contract. Negotiate changes or find another reseller.

      Resale Checklist

      Selling a timeshare is a lot like selling any other piece of real estate. But you also should check with the resort to determine restrictions, limits, or fees that could affect your ability to resell or transfer ownership. Then, make sure that your paperwork is in order. You’ll need:

      • the name, address, and phone number of the resort;
      • the deed and the contract or membership agreement;
      • the financing agreement, if you’re still paying for the property;
      • information to identify your interest or membership;
      • the exchange company affiliation;
      • the amount and due date of your maintenance fee;
      • the amount of real estate taxes, if billed separately.

      For More Information

      To learn more about vacation ownership, contact the American Resort Development Association. It represents the vacation ownership and resort development industries. ARDA has nearly 1,000 members, ranging from privately-held companies to major corporations, in the U.S. and overseas.

      American Resort Development Association
      1201 15th Street N.W., Suite 400
      Washington, D.C. 20005
      (202) 371-6700; Fax: (202) 289-8544
      www.arda.org

      To File a Complaint

      Timesharing is usually regulated through the Real Estate Commission in the state where the timeshare property is located. The sale of vacation plans generally is not regulated at all. However, if you believe you’ve been the victim of false or deceptive advertising or marketing of a vacation plan, contact the FTC.

        The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Watch a video, How to File a Complaint, at ftc.gov/video to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. sale Checklist

      Selling a timeshare is a lot like selling any other piece of real estate. But you also should check with the resort to determine restrictions, limits, or fees that could affect your ability to resell or transfer ownership. Then, make sure that your paperwork is in order. You’ll need:

      American Resort Development Association
      1201 15th Street N.W., Suite 400
      Washington, D.C. 20005
      (202) 371-6700; Fax: (202) 289-8544
      www.arda.org

      To File a Complaint

      Timesharing is usually regulated through the Real Estate Commission in the state where the timeshare property is located. The sale of vacation plans generally is not regulated at all. However, if you believe you’ve been the victim of false or deceptive advertising or marketing of a vacation plan, contact the FTC.

        The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Watch a video, How to File a Complaint, at ftc.gov/video to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

        From the Federal Trade Commission:

        April is Financial Literacy Month

        A Great Time to Share Free Resources from the FTC

        April is Financial Literacy Month, and the Federal Trade Commission, the nation's consumer protection agency, has information to help you make the most of your money whether you're a student, young adult, parent, older person, or military service member.

        "At the FTC, we're focused on stopping frauds that rob people of their last dollar," said David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "In fact, you don't have to be an expert to help your friends and family avoid scams and protect their money. Financial Literacy Month is a great time to talk to them about their consumer rights."

        Information from the FTC can help people gain mental muscle by understanding how credit reports and credit scores affect the rates and terms they get on loans; how to exercise their rights when dealing with debt collectors; how to protect their personal information and minimize the risk of identity theft; how advertising affects them; and much more:

        Money Matters offers short, practical tips, videos, and links to reliable sources on a variety of topics in English and Spanish, ranging from credit repair, debt collection, job hunting, and job scams to vehicle repossession, managing mortgage payments, and avoiding foreclosure rescue scams.

        Free Annual Credit Reports offers details about a consumer's right to a free copy of his or her credit report from each of the three national credit reporting agencies, upon request, once every 12 months. Reviewing one's credit report regularly is an effective way to deter and detect identity theft.

        You Are Here is a virtual mall where kids experience the FTC's mission by learning about advertising, competition, and how to protect their privacy.

        All of the FTC's financial literacy materials are in the public domain. They can be posted, reprinted, or adapted to educate people about their consumer rights.

        The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

         

        It's National Financial Capability Month

        Read the Presidential Proclamation

        BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
        A PROCLAMATION

        Across our country, millions of Americans work hard and play by the rules to protect the gains they have made and secure a brighter future for their loved ones. The resilience and ingenuity of our people are driving our economic recovery, and as we lay the foundation for an America built to last, we must also promote a financial system that is fair and sound for all. During National Financial Capability Month, we recommit to ensuring everyone has access to the information and tools that empower them to operate safely and smartly in the marketplace.

        A strong and stable economy requires responsibility from top to bottom -- from banks and borrowers to workers and executives. To protect everyday Americans from abuses in the financial industry, I appointed Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB). His responsibility -- and that of the CFPB -- is to ensure all Americans have the resources they need to make sound financial decisions, and to guarantee every individual receives fair treatment when they apply for a mortgage, take out a student loan, or use a credit card.

        As we work to put an end to predatory behavior in our financial markets, my Administration is taking action to empower individuals and families with the tools they need to get ahead. Last year, we collaborated with representatives from the private, public, and non-profit industries to release the National Strategy for Financial Literacy -- a comprehensive plan to improve financial education across our country. The President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability (PACFC) continues to identify and promote the most effective, data-driven strategies to better educate Americans on financial issues. With help from the PACFC, we are working to provide our young people with financial skills to become successful students, entrepreneurs, and leaders; to ensure American workers are able to provide for their loved ones and save for retirement; and to foster financial capability in families and communities across our Nation.

        During National Financial Capability Month, we rededicate ourselves to advancing robust consumer education and to helping every individual take ownership of their financial future. I encourage all Americans to take advantage of the free, reliable financial resources at www.MyMoney.gov, www.ConsumerFinance.gov, and 1-888-MyMoney.

        NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 2012 as National Financial Capability Month. I call upon all Americans to observe this month with programs and activities to improve their understanding of financial principles and practices.

        IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this second day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.

        BARACK OBAMA 

        From thF 

         

        It's that time again!

        The IRS has released the "Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2012" (see below)  and the Federal Trade Commission offers consumers the following advice on tax-related identity theft, the Number 1 scam to beware of:

        FTC Offers Warning, Advice on Tax-Related Identity Theft

        Did you know that your Social Security number can help an identity thief get a job, or the tax refund that should be yours?

        The Federal Trade Commission, the nation's consumer protection agency, cautions that thieves can use a stolen Social Security number to apply for a job or file for a tax refund under a false identity. The FTC advises that, if you think this has happened to you, or if you get an Internal Revenue Service notice indicating a problem, contact the IRS immediately for help with your tax return, any refund, and protecting your IRS account from identity theft in the future.

        The FTC also recommends three steps to minimize the potential damage from identity theft:

        • Put a fraud alert on your credit reports
        • Review your credit reports
        • Create an identity theft report by filing an identity theft complaint with the FTC and filing a police report.

        Read the FTC's Tax-Related Identity Theft to learn how to uncover and deal with this problem, how to avoid phishing scams, and how to contact the IRS. For more information, visit the FTC's identity theft website.

        The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call
        1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

        The Internal Revenue Service's "Dirty Dozen Tax Scams" of 2012:

        WASHINGTON –– The Internal Revenue Service today issued its annual “Dirty Dozen” ranking of tax scams, reminding taxpayers to use caution during tax season to protect themselves against a wide range of schemes ranging from identity theft to return preparer fraud.

        The Dirty Dozen listing, compiled by the IRS each year, lists a variety of common scams taxpayers can encounter at any point during the year. But many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns.

        “Taxpayers should be careful and avoid falling into a trap with the Dirty Dozen,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “Scam artists will tempt people in-person, on-line and by e-mail with misleading promises about lost refunds and free money. Don’t be fooled by these scams.”

        Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. The IRS Criminal Investigation Division works closely with the Department of Justice to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

        The following is the Dirty Dozen tax scams for 2012:

        Identity Theft

        Topping this year’s list Dirty Dozen list is identity theft. In response to growing identity theft concerns, the IRS has embarked on a comprehensive strategy that is focused on preventing, detecting and resolving identity theft cases as soon as possible. In addition to the law-enforcement crackdown, the IRS has stepped up its internal reviews to spot false tax returns before tax refunds are issued as well as working to help victims of the identity theft refund schemes.

        Identity theft cases are among the most complex ones the IRS handles, but the agency is committed to working with taxpayers who have become victims of identity theft.

        The IRS is increasingly seeing identity thieves looking for ways to use a legitimate taxpayer’s identity and personal information to file a tax return and claim a fraudulent refund.
         
        An IRS notice informing a taxpayer that more than one return was filed in the taxpayer’s name or that the taxpayer received wages from an unknown employer may be the first tip off the individual receives that he or she has been victimized. 

        The IRS has a robust screening process with measures in place to stop fraudulent returns. While the IRS is continuing to address tax-related identity theft aggressively, the agency is also seeing an increase in identity crimes, including more complex schemes. In 2011, the IRS protected more than $1.4 billion of taxpayer funds from getting into the wrong hands due to identity theft.

        In January, the IRS announced the results of a massive, national sweep cracking down on suspected identity theft perpetrators as part of a stepped-up effort against refund fraud and identity theft.  Working with the Justice Department’s Tax Division and local U.S. Attorneys’ offices, the nationwide effort targeted 105 people in 23 states.

        Anyone who believes his or her personal information has been stolen and used for tax purposes should immediately contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit.  For more information, visit the special identity theft page at www.IRS.gov/identitytheft

        Phishing

        Phishing is a scam typically carried out with the help of unsolicited email or a fake website that poses as a legitimate site to lure in potential victims and prompt them to provide valuable personal and financial information. Armed with this information, a criminal can commit identity theft or financial theft.

        If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov.

        It is important to keep in mind the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information.  This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.  The IRS has information that can help you protect yourself from email scams.

        Return Preparer Fraud

        About 60 percent of taxpayers will use tax professionals this year to prepare and file their tax returns. Most return preparers provide honest service to their clients. But as in any other business, there are also some who prey on unsuspecting taxpayers.

        Questionable return preparers have been known to skim off their clients’ refunds, charge inflated fees for return preparation services and attract new clients by promising guaranteed or inflated refunds. Taxpayers should choose carefully when hiring a tax preparer. Federal courts have issued hundreds of injunctions ordering individuals to cease preparing returns, and the Department of Justice has pending complaints against many others.

        In 2012, every paid preparer needs to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and enter it on the returns he or she prepares.

        Signals to watch for when you are dealing with an unscrupulous return preparer would include that they:

        • Do not sign the return or place a Preparer Tax identification Number on it.
        • Do not give you a copy of your tax return.
        • Promise larger than normal tax refunds.
        • Charge a percentage of the refund amount as preparation fee.
        • Require you to split the refund to pay the preparation fee.
        • Add forms to the return you have never filed before.
        • Encourage you to place false information on your return, such as false income, expenses and/or credits.

        For advice on how to find a competent tax professional, see  Tips for Choosing a Tax Preparer.

        Hiding Income Offshore

        Over the years, numerous individuals have been identified as evading U.S. taxes by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or nominee entities, using debit cards, credit cards or wire transfers to access the funds. Others have employed foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or insurance plans for the same purpose.

        The IRS uses information gained from its investigations to pursue taxpayers with undeclared accounts, as well as the banks and bankers suspected of helping clients hide their assets overseas. The IRS works closely with the Department of Justice to prosecute tax evasion cases.

        While there are legitimate reasons for maintaining financial accounts abroad, there are reporting requirements that need to be fulfilled. U.S. taxpayers who maintain such accounts and who do not comply with reporting and disclosure requirements are breaking the law and risk significant penalties and fines, as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution.
         
        Since 2009, 30,000 individuals have come forward voluntarily to disclose their foreign financial accounts, taking advantage of special opportunities to bring their money back into the U.S. tax system and resolve their tax obligations. And, with new foreign account reporting requirements being phased in over the next few years, hiding income offshore will become increasingly more difficult.

        At the beginning of this year, the IRS reopened the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) following continued strong interest from taxpayers and tax practitioners after the closure of the 2011 and 2009 programs. The IRS continues working on a wide range of international tax issues and follows ongoing efforts with the Justice Department to pursue criminal prosecution of international tax evasion.  This program will be open for an indefinite period until otherwise announced.

        The IRS has collected $3.4 billion so far from people who participated in the 2009 offshore program, reflecting closures of about 95 percent of the cases from the 2009 program. On top of that, the IRS has collected an additional $1 billion from up front payments required under the 2011 program.  That number will grow as the IRS processes the 2011 cases.

        “Free Money” from the IRS & Tax Scams Involving Social Security

        Flyers and advertisements for free money from the IRS, suggesting that the taxpayer can file a tax return with little or no documentation, have been appearing in community churches around the country. These schemes are also often spread by word of mouth as unsuspecting and well-intentioned people tell their friends and relatives.

        Scammers prey on low income individuals and the elderly. They build false hopes and charge people good money for bad advice. In the end, the victims discover their claims are rejected. Meanwhile, the promoters are long gone. The IRS warns all taxpayers to remain vigilant.

        There are a number of tax scams involving Social Security. For example, scammers have been known to lure the unsuspecting with promises of non-existent Social Security refunds or rebates. In another situation, a taxpayer may really be due a credit or refund but uses inflated information to complete the return. 

        Beware. Intentional mistakes of this kind can result in a $5,000 penalty.

        False/Inflated Income and Expenses

        Including income that was never earned, either as wages or as self-employment income in order to maximize refundable credits, is another popular scam. Claiming income you did not earn or expenses you did not pay in order to secure larger refundable credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit could have serious repercussions.  This could result in repaying the erroneous refunds, including interest and penalties, and in some cases, even prosecution. 

        Additionally, some taxpayers are filing excessive claims for the fuel tax credit. Farmers and other taxpayers who use fuel for off-highway business purposes may be eligible for the fuel tax credit. But other individuals have claimed the tax credit when their occupations or income levels make the claims unreasonable. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim and can result in a penalty of $5,000.

        False Form 1099 Refund Claims

        In this ongoing scam, the perpetrator files a fake information return, such as a Form 1099 Original Issue Discount (OID), to justify a false refund claim on a corresponding tax return. In some cases, individuals have made refund claims based on the bogus theory that the federal government maintains secret accounts for U.S. citizens and that taxpayers can gain access to the accounts by issuing 1099-OID forms to the IRS.

        Don’t fall prey to people who encourage you to claim deductions or credits to which you are not entitled or willingly allow others to use your information to file false returns. If you are a party to such schemes, you could be liable for financial penalties or even face criminal prosecution.

        Frivolous Arguments

        Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. The IRS has a list of frivolous tax arguments that taxpayers should avoid. These arguments are false and have been thrown out of court. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law.

        Falsely Claiming Zero Wages

        Filing a phony information return is an illegal way to lower the amount of taxes an individual owes. Typically, a Form 4852 (Substitute Form W-2) or a “corrected” Form 1099 is used as a way to improperly reduce taxable income to zero. The taxpayer may also submit a statement rebutting wages and taxes reported by a payer to the IRS.

        Sometimes, fraudsters even include an explanation on their Form 4852 that cites statutory language on the definition of wages or may include some reference to a paying company that refuses to issue a corrected Form W-2 for fear of IRS retaliation. Taxpayers should resist any temptation to participate in any variations of this scheme. Filing this type of return may result in a $5,000 penalty.

        Abuse of Charitable Organizations and Deductions

        IRS examiners continue to uncover the intentional abuse of 501(c)(3) organizations, including arrangements that improperly shield income or assets from taxation and attempts by donors to maintain control over donated assets or the income from donated property. The IRS is investigating schemes that involve the donation of non-cash assets –– including situations in which several organizations claim the full value of the same non-cash contribution. Often these donations are highly overvalued or the organization receiving the donation promises that the donor can repurchase the items later at a price set by the donor. The Pension Protection Act of 2006 imposed increased penalties for inaccurate appraisals and set new standards for qualified appraisals.

        Disguised Corporate Ownership

        Third parties are improperly used to request employer identification numbers and form corporations that obscure the true ownership of the business.

        These entities can be used to underreport income, claim fictitious deductions, avoid filing tax returns, participate in listed transactions and facilitate money laundering, and financial crimes. The IRS is working with state authorities to identify these entities and bring the owners into compliance with the law.

        Misuse of Trusts

        For years, unscrupulous promoters have urged taxpayers to transfer assets into trusts. While there are legitimate uses of trusts in tax and estate planning, some highly questionable transactions promise reduction of income subject to tax, deductions for personal expenses and reduced estate or gift taxes. Such trusts rarely deliver the tax benefits promised and are used primarily as a means of avoiding income tax liability and hiding assets from creditors, including the IRS.

        IRS personnel have seen an increase in the improper use of private annuity trusts and foreign trusts to shift income and deduct personal expenses. As with other arrangements, taxpayers should seek the advice of a trusted professional before entering a trust arrangement.

         

        Beware of Charities and Fundraising Phone Fraud

        Advice from the Federal Trade Commission:

        Charities perform a variety of valuable services in our society. Many are facing increases in costs and demands and decreases in funding. To meet these financial challenges, charities are asking for larger contributions from more donors - and they're asking more often than they used to, often using telemarketing and direct mail solicitations to raise funds for their causes. At the same time, fraudsters are using the phone and the mail to solicit for fraudulent charities.

        Consider the following precautions to ensure that your donation dollars benefit people and organizations you want to help. They're good practices whether you're contacted by an organization's employees, volunteers, or professional fund-raisers, soliciting donations by phone, mail or in person.

        How to avoid charity & fundraising fraud

        • Donate to recognized charities with a history. Look up the organization at the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, or the American Institute of Philanthropy. Ask the caller "Are you calling on behalf of a charity? What is the name of your organization?"
        • Look closely at charities with names similar to well-known organizations. Some phony charities try to gain your trust by using names that sound or look like legitimate organizations. Ask the caller "Can you point me to a Website or another resource for more information about your organization?"
        • Avoid giving cash gifts. They can be lost or stolen. For security and tax purposes, it's best to pay by check, made payable to the charity, not the solicitor. Ask, "Can you give me a receipt showing the amount of my contribution and stating that it is tax deductible?"
        • Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you don't remember making. If you have any doubts about whether you've made a pledge or previously contributed, check your records.
        • Reject high pressure appeals. Legitimate fund-raisers don't put you on the spot to give. Ask, "Can you mail me more information about the charity and how it works?"
        • Do not do business with any charity offering to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect your donation.
        • Consider the costs. When you buy merchandise or tickets for special events, or get "free" goods in exchange for giving, remember that part of your contribution was used to pay for it.
        • Be cautious of promises of guaranteed sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. According to U.S. law, you never have to give a donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes.
        • A special word about appeals that tug at your heart strings, especially pleas involving patriotism and current events, before you give, make sure the organization has the infrastructure to deliver the help it is claiming to provide.
        • After receiving a call asking for a donation, call the charity in question to find out whether it is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name.

        Facts about Fire, Police, or Military Fundraisers

        • Simply having the words "police" or "firefighter" in an organization's name doesn't mean police or firefighters are members of the group or will benefit from the funds raised.
        • An organization may claim it has ties with local police or firefighters, but that doesn't mean contributions will be used locally or for public safety. Call your local organization to verify the connection.
        • Many solicitations for police and fire service organizations are made by professional fund-raisers who are paid to do the job.
        • Donations to some police or firefighter groups may not be tax deductible.

        The Department of Defense does not endorse specific war-related charities.

         

        FTC Publications

         

         

        More Resources

         

         

        Be car smart! 

         

            It's  almost time for the February car sales on President's Day, Monday, Feb. 20.  Click here for some tips from Massachusetts Consumer Affairs.

        You'll learn about the Used Vehicle Warrant Law, the Lemon Aid Law and the Odometer Law, and more.

        There are also links to publications on buying and maintaining your car, buying a used car, a Car Smart brochure and automobile resources in Spanish.

         

         

        Valentine's Day Shopping

        Buying Jewelry?  First, read the following helpful information from the Federal Trade Commission:

        Gold and Silver Jewelery

        Platinum Jewelry

        Gemstones, Diamonds, & Pearls

         

        Get your free Annual Credit Report

        Start the new year on the right financial footing by monitoring and reviewing your credit report. You can get a free annual credit report by clicking here to reach the Annual Credit Report website. It's a central site allowing you to request a free credit file disclosure, commonly called a credit report, once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

        AnnualCreditReport.com promises consumers that "Free credit reports requested online are viewable immediately upon authentication of identity. Free credit reports requested by phone or mail will be processed within 15 days of receiving your request.

        Here's what the Federal Trade Commission says:

         

        What is AnnualCreditReport.com?

        AnnualCreditReport.com is the ONLY authorized source for the free annual credit report that's yours by law. The Fair Credit Reporting Act guarantees you access to your credit report for free from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — every 12 months. The Federal Trade Commission has received complaints from consumers who thought they were ordering their free annual credit report, and yet couldn't get it without paying fees or buying other services. TV ads, email offers, or online search results may tout "free" credit reports, but there is only one authorized source for a truly free credit report.

        I’ve seen a box at the top of some websites saying:

        "You have the right to a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com or 877-322-8228, the ONLY authorized source under federal law."

        What’s this about?

        A new law requires commercial websites that say they offer free credit reports to include a box letting you know you can get a free credit report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Click on the link to www.AnnualCreditReport.com, the only place to get the free report that's yours by law.

        Many companies claim to offer free credit reports – and some do. But others give you a report only if you buy other products or services. Still others say they’re giving you a “free” report and then bill you for services you have to cancel. If you go to www.AnnualCreditReport.com and follow the prompts for your free credit report, you can be sure the reports you get really are free.

        How do I request my free credit report?

        You can request your free report online, by phone or by mail. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com, call 1-877-322-8228, or fill out the Annual Credit Report Request form and mail it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.  No matter how you request your report, you have the option to request all three reports at once or to order one report at a time.  By requesting the reports separately, you can monitor your credit more frequently throughout the year.  

        Why should I request my credit report?

        Because the information in your credit report is used to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, and renting a home, you should be sure the information is accurate and up-to-date.  In addition, monitoring your credit is one of the best ways to spot identity theft.  Check your credit report at least once a year to correct errors and detect unauthorized activity. 

        What should I look for when I review my credit report?

        If you see accounts you don’t recognize or information that is inaccurate, contact the credit reporting agency and the information provider.  For more information, read the FTC’s tips on how to dispute credit errors

        If you suspect identity theft, you may need to place a fraud alert on your credit report, close compromised accounts, file a complaint with the FTC, or file a police report.  Start by visiting the FTC’s identity theft website. 

         

        Twelve Seasonal Holiday Tips from the Consumer Protection Division

         

        1. Keep in mind that wiring money is like sending cash: the sender has no protections against loss
        2. Don’t send money to someone you don’t know
        3. Don’t respond to messages that ask for your personal or financial information, whether the message comes as an email, a phone call, a text message  or an ad
        4. Don’t play a foreign lottery; it’s illegal
        5. Don’t agree to deposit a check from someone you don’t know and then wire money back, no matter how convincing the story
        6. In the wake of a natural disaster or another crisis, give to established charities rather than one that seems to have sprung up overnight
        7. Remember there’s no such thing as a sure thing.
        8. Know where an offer comes from and who you’re dealing with
        9. There are no charges for “real” government grants
        10. Read your bills and monthly statements regularly-on paper and online
        11. Get a free credit report yearly from www.annualcreditreport.com or 877-322-8228
        12. When shopping, find out the exchange and restocking policy, plus save your receipts

        Happy Holidays from the NWDA! 

         

        Beware of Charities and Fundraising Phone Fraud

        Advice from the Federal Trade Commission:

        Charities perform a variety of valuable services in our society. Many are facing increases in costs and demands and decreases in funding. To meet these financial challenges, charities are asking for larger contributions from more donors - and they're asking more often than they used to, often using telemarketing and direct mail solicitations to raise funds for their causes. At the same time, fraudsters are using the phone and the mail to solicit for fraudulent charities.

        Consider the following precautions to ensure that your donation dollars benefit people and organizations you want to help. They're good practices whether you're contacted by an organization's employees, volunteers, or professional fund-raisers, soliciting donations by phone, mail or in person.

        How to avoid charity & fundraising fraud

        • Donate to recognized charities with a history. Look up the organization at the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving AllianceCharity Navigator, or the American Institute of Philanthropy. Ask the caller "Are you calling on behalf of a charity? What is the name of your organization?"
        • Look closely at charities with names similar to well-known organizations. Some phony charities try to gain your trust by using names that sound or look like legitimate organizations. Ask the caller "Can you point me to a Website or another resource for more information about your organization?"
        • Avoid giving cash gifts. They can be lost or stolen. For security and tax purposes, it's best to pay by check, made payable to the charity, not the solicitor. Ask, "Can you give me a receipt showing the amount of my contribution and stating that it is tax deductible?"
        • Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you don't remember making. If you have any doubts about whether you've made a pledge or previously contributed, check your records.
        • Reject high pressure appeals. Legitimate fund-raisers don't put you on the spot to give. Ask, "Can you mail me more information about the charity and how it works?"
        • Do not do business with any charity offering to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect your donation.
        • Consider the costs. When you buy merchandise or tickets for special events, or get "free" goods in exchange for giving, remember that part of your contribution was used to pay for it.
        • Be cautious of promises of guaranteed sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. According to U.S. law, you never have to give a donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes.
        • A special word about appeals that tug at your heart strings, especially pleas involving patriotism and current events, before you give, make sure the organization has the infrastructure to deliver the help it is claiming to provide.
        • After receiving a call asking for a donation, call the charity in question to find out whether it is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name.

        Facts about Fire, Police, or Military Fundraisers

        • Simply having the words "police" or "firefighter" in an organization's name doesn't mean police or firefighters are members of the group or will benefit from the funds raised.
        • An organization may claim it has ties with local police or firefighters, but that doesn't mean contributions will be used locally or for public safety. Call your local organization to verify the connection.
        • Many solicitations for police and fire service organizations are made by professional fund-raisers who are paid to do the job.
        • Donations to some police or firefighter groups may not be tax deductible.

        The Department of Defense does not endorse specific war-related charities.

         

        FTC Publications

         

         

        More Resources

         

         

         

         

         

        Shopping Online This Holiday Season?

        The Federal Trade Commission Offers Advice on Getting the Best Deal.

        Here's what the FTC says:

        Whether your gift list is ready or you're wondering how long you can wait to start your holiday shopping, the Federal Trade Commission has online tips to help you get the best deals. The bottom line: Some extra research can really pay off:

        Set a Budget. Create a gift list and check it twice to help you stay on track and not overspend.

        Decide What Matters. Especially if you're buying gadgets, know what your "must-have" features are vs. those that are just nice to have.

        Use Search Engines. Type a company or product name into your search engine with terms like "review," "complaint" or "scam" to find out more about it.

        Read Reviews Online. Reviews from other people, experts, and columnists can give you an idea of how a product performs. But don't put all of your trust in one review.

        Consider Reputation. A brand's reputation for quality and good customer service can really pay off.

        Check Comparison Shopping Sites. They connect to many retailers selling the same product, sometimes at significantly different prices. Keep shipping costs in mind.

        Consider Coupons. Some companies offer discounts via e-mail, and some websites collect and list codes for free shipping and other discounts. Search for the store with terms like "discount," "coupon" or "free shipping."

        Read Return Policies. Not all stores have the same rules. Some charge fees for return shipping or restocking things like electronics.

        Decide How to Pay. When you shop online, credit cards can offer extra protections.

        Look for a Secure Checkout. Does the website start with https (the "s" stands for secure) when you're checking out?

        Learn more about researching products online at OnguardOnline.gov/SmartShopper.

        For hassle-free online shopping, keep records like e-mails and online receipts in case there's a problem. Also, make sure you know who you're dealing with and protect your personal and financial information, since anyone can set up shop online under almost any name. Learn more about safe shopping online at http://onguardonline.gov/articles/0020-shopping-online.

        The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call
        1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

        ________________________________________________________

         

        News from the Federal Trade Commission:

        FTC Adds New Protections for Consumers Seeking to Work from Home

        The Federal Trade Commission has approved changes to its Business Opportunity Rule that will ensure that consumers have the information they need when considering buying a work-at-home program or any other business opportunity. The changes simplify the disclosures that business opportunity sellers must provide to prospective buyers. The simplified disclosures will help prospective purchasers assess the risks of buying a business opportunity, while minimizing compliance burdens on businesses.

        In addition, the Final Rule, which will be effective on March 1, 2012, applies to business opportunities previously covered under the Rule, as well as work-at-home offers such as envelope stuffing and craft assembly opportunities. The final Rule requires business opportunity sellers to give consumers specific information to help them evaluate a business opportunity. Sellers must disclose five key items of information in a simple, one-page document:

        • the seller's identifying information;
        • whether the seller makes a claim about the purchaser's likely earnings (and, if the seller checks the "yes" box, the seller must provide information supporting any such claims);
        • whether the seller, its affiliates or key personnel have been involved in certain legal actions (and, if yes, a separate list of those actions);
        • whether the seller has a cancellation or refund policy (and, if yes, a separate document stating the material terms of such policies); and
        • a list of persons who bought the business opportunity within the previous three years.

        Misrepresentations and omissions are prohibited under the Rule, and for sales conducted in languages other than English, all disclosures must be provided in the language in which the sale is conducted.

        Consumers should use the disclosure document and supplementary information to fact-check sellers' sales pitches. This information will be helpful to consumers like Teresa Yeast, a stay-at-home mother who purchased a craft-assembly work-at-home program from a company called Darling Angel Pin Creations. The FTC filed a law enforcement action against that company in February 2010 for allegedly claiming that consumers could make hundreds of dollars assembling angel pins at home. "It's important to be skeptical and to be cautionary when you're approached with ... a business opportunity," Mrs. Yeast said. "I saw an opportunity that looked great, and took it. They took my money."

        The announcement of a final Business Opportunity Rule completes the process that started when the Commission published an Initial Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and proposed creating a Business Opportunity Rule separate from the Franchise Rule. The FTC issued a Revised Proposed Business Opportunity Rule and conducted a public workshop, and the staff issued a Staff Report. At every stage of the Rule amendment proceeding, the Commission solicited comment on the economic impact of the Rule, as well as the costs and benefits of each proposed amendment. In issuing the final Rule, the Commission has carefully considered the comments received and the costs and benefits of each amendment.

        To find out more about business opportunity sellers' compliance obligations, read Selling a Work-at-Home or Other Business Opportunity? Revised Rule May Apply to You or watch this newvideo. Consumers thinking about buying a business opportunity should read Looking to Earn Extra Income? Rule Helps You Avoid Bogus Business Opportunity Offers to learn more about the final Rule.

        The Commission vote approving the final amendments to the Business Opportunity Rule was 
        4-0.

        The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 
        1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's website provides free information on a variety ofconsumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

        _______________________________________

        Trouble paying your mortgage?

        Get connected with an HUD-approved housing counselor.  The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau explains how here.

        you get connected to a HUD-approved housing counselor. At no cost to you, the counselor can help you work with your mortgage company to try to avoid foreclosure. A housing counselor can help you organize your finances, understand your mortgage options, and find a solution that works for you.

        Here’s what to do:

        STEP 1: Collect your financial information

        Have this ready when you work with your mortgage company or housing counselor to discuss a possible work-out solution.

        • Mortgage loan number (account number)
        • Any additional paperwork from your mortgage company
        • Recent pay stubs
        • Recent tax return
        • Household expenses (bills including food, utilities, car payments, insurance, cable, phone, credit cards, car loans, and student loans)

        STEP 2: Call  the CFPB at 1(855) 411-2372

        If you would prefer to look for mortgage help online, HUD provides a list of foreclosure prevention resources arranged by state. Military members or veterans can call us or visit the VA’s home loan website to get personalized assistance.

        STEP 3: Be vigilant about scams

        Foreclosure prevention and loan modification scammers target homeowners who are having trouble paying their mortgages. These scammers might promise “guaranteed” or “immediate” relief from foreclosure, and they might charge you very high fees for little or no services. Don’t get scammed. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Call the CFPB if you think you may be the target or victim of a scam.

        Legal aid

        If you believe you are in need of an attorney, or if you have been served with a notice of foreclosure or other related legal complaint, there might be legal representation available at little or no cost to you. 

        ___________________________________________________________________________________________

        Due to the most recent flooding disaster facing the citizens of New England following Hurricane Irene in Aug., 2011, The Federal Trade Commission has issued Disaster Recovery, a consumer advisory on a variety of home ownership issues and scams ranging from crooked charities to fake disaster officials. From the FTC:

        ADVANCE FEE LOAN SCAMS

        These scams typically require that consumers or businesses pay some type of fee up front, say, to process the loan. The promised loan never materializes. A variation on this scam offers credit cards. But after you send in your money, all you get is a list of banks to contact yourself.

        APPLIANCES

        If one repair person tells you that an expensive or major appliance should be replaced, ask for the opinion and replacement cost in writing. Ask to see the contractor’s state and/or local business license. Talk to your insurance adjuster about the cost, and consider getting a second opinion. Make sure your contract lists materials to be used and a completion date. As always, don’t make the final payment until the work is completed and you are satisfied with the job.

        AUTOMOBILES

        If your car was submerged in at least a foot of standing water for more than an hour, have it checked out by a car dealer or repair shop. Even it runs, hidden damage could pose problems later on.
        Get detailed written estimates and keep copies of receipts and invoices.

        If you’re buying a used vehicle, inspect it carefully. Look at hidden parts or crevices to check for mud or silt, which indicates water damage.

        Some clues include:

        • new upholstery or carpeting;
        • dirt or mud in air vents or on top of the engine;
        • musty or moldy smell;
        • fluid contamination such as oil, power brakes and transmission. A mixture of motor oil and water looks milky white.

         

        Before you buy a used car, do a title search for the current owner’s name and address, purchase date, purchase price, sales tax, if owner is a car dealer, and odometer reading. You must have the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to do this. It’s on the dashboard.

        The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) has compiled a database of vehicles affected by hurricanes and other events. The information in this database was gathered from a number of sources, including insurance companies, salvage yards and state and local authorities. NICB is allowing individuals to check VINs free of charge as a public service to help determine whether a specific vehicle was involved in either hurricane. In addition, some, but not all, states require that a vehicle’s title indicate when it has been salvaged.

        CHARITY SCAMS

        Most charitable organizations are honest and put donations to good use. But some spend the majority of donations they receive on salaries and administrative costs. Occasionally, scam artists solicit donations for fake or existing charities and pocket the money. Before you give, ask three questions:

        • How will your contribution be spent?
        • What portion of your contribution goes to salaries and administrative costs?
        • If you are solicited by telephone, ask if the caller works for a professional fund-raiser. Many state laws require this disclosure.

         

        CONTRACTOR SCAMS

        After a disaster hits your area, you may discover that your damaged home or business may need extensive repair or demolition. Insurance settlements and relief from the federal government to property owners can provide con artists with opportunities to profit unfairly. It’s no secret that fraudsters follow the money, attracted by the demand for repairs and the availability of funds.
        When you deal with contractors:

        • Ask for copies of their general liability and worker’s compensation insurance.
        • Check their identification and references.
        • Don’t pay more than the minimum in advance.
        • Deal with reputable people in your community.
        • Call the cops and the Better Business Bureau if you suspect a con.

         

        If your house is severely damaged, make sure you can legally rebuild if you intend to. When you file for a building permit, local inspectors will determine what federal regulations you must comply with. Make sure you check the building permit for any restrictions yourself and that the new structure meets any elevation standards.

        If your house is basically intact, but you need a contractor to help with some repairs, ask questions first and pay later. Remember to be SKEPTICAL: watch what is charged in your name at the building supply store.

        Choosing a Contractor

        • Get recommendations from friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, insurance agents, or claims adjusters.
        • Deal only with licensed and insured contractors. Check with the local Better Business Bureau and Home Builders Association to see if complaints have been lodged against any contractor you’re considering.
        • Be skeptical of contractors who encourage you to spend a lot of money on temporary repairs.
        • Get a written estimate that includes any oral promises the contractor made. Remember to ask if there’s a charge for an estimate before allowing anyone into your home.
        • Take your time about signing a contract. Ask for explanations for price variations, and don’t automatically choose the lowest bidder. Resist dealing with any contractor who asks you to pay for the entire job up-front. A deposit of one-third of the total price is standard. Pay only by check or credit card and pay the final amount only after the work is completed to your satisfaction. Don’t pay cash.
        • Ask a knowledgeable friend, relative or attorney to review a home repair contract before you sign. Get a copy of the final, signed contract before the job begins.
        • Ask the contractor you choose to provide a lien waiver before starting your job. This is a receipt that says the workers and suppliers of material will not ask you for money once you have paid the contractor. In any case, don’t sign a consent of owner statement: it says you, the property owner, will cover the costs of materials and labor if the contractor doesn’t pay.

        DAMAGED OR LOST DOCUMENTS

        It is important to replace any legal documents that have been damaged or lost. Among those documents that should be replaced – and the contacts – are:

        • Deeds and recorded real estate documents: County’s Recorder of Deeds
        • Mortgages and other credit: Lender or financial company
        • Leases: Landlord or financial company
        • Insurance policies: Insurance company/agent
        • Wills: Attorney. If the will is destroyed, you’ll need another.
        • Checks/Passbook Savings book/Investment materials: Bank, investment company, or your broker.
        • Auto Title/Drivers License: Secretary of State or Department of Motor Vehicles
        • Birth Certificate: Vital Statistics Office from county where person was born.
        • Social Security Card: local Social Security Administration Office
        • Tax Returns: IRS Center
        • Other important documents, such as contracts or divorce judgments: Attorney or the court

         

        A very important document to have at this time is your credit report because it lists all your creditors. Everyone is entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three national credit reporting companies. Call  toll-free, 1-877-322-8228 for your free credit report. If you have already gotten your free credit report this year from each of the companies, you may have to pay for another copy – but it won’t cost more than $9.50.
        DEBRIS REMOVAL SCAMS

        If you are dealing with a company or person who promises to remove debris from your property, ask them to list the services they will provide in writing. Don’t make the final payment until you have inspected the job and are happy with it. Check around for prices to make sure you are not overcharged.

         

        DOOR -TO-DOOR SALES (COOLING OFF RULE)

        After a disaster, you may find salespeople at your door offering a variety of home-repair products or services. You have certain cancellation rights when sales occur in your home, from the back of a truck, or anywhere but the seller’s established place of business.

        If the sale is more than $25, you can cancel within three days and still get a full refund. The salesperson is required to tell you about your three day right to cancel and give you a form to use.

        You can cancel for any reason, but you have to do it in writing. Sign and mail the form the salesperson gave you at the sale. Make sure it is post-marked before midnight on the third business day after the sale. Report any problems with door-to-door sales to teh Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov, or 1-877-FTC-HELP.

        FAKE DISASTER OFFICIALS

        Always ask for identification from any officials who stop at your home or your temporary shelter. Some scam artists claim to be government officials who could help you qualify for disaster relief payments for a “processing” fee. Others masquerade as safety inspectors or utility repair men who say immediate work is required. Still others say they can get you FEMA funds for a fee. FEMA does not charge application fees. In fact, no government agency charges application fees.

        Verify the credentials of anyone who is offering you low-interest government loans. Confirm that they are affiliated with such agencies by calling the agencies if necessary.

        FLOOD RESTORATION

        Your home and its contents may look beyond hope, but many of your belongings can be restored. If you do things right, your flooded home can be cleaned up, dried out, rebuilt, and reoccupied sooner than you think.

        Play it safe. The dangers are not over when the water goes down. Your home's foundation may have been weakened, the electrical system may have shorted out, and floodwaters may have left behind things that could make you sick. When in doubt, throw it out. Don't risk injury or infection.

        Ask for help. Many people can do a lot of the clean up and repairs needed after a flood. But if you have technical questions or do not feel comfortable doing something, get professional help. If there is a federal disaster declaration, a telephone "hotline" will often be publicized to provide information about public, private, and voluntary agency programs to help you recover from the flood.

        Floodproof. It is very likely that your home will be flooded again someday. You can save a lot of money by floodproofing as you repair and rebuild. You should also prepare for the next flood by buying flood insurance and writing a flood response plan.

        FOUNDATION, EXCAVATION, or WATERPROOFING WORK

        Occasionally, workers offer to use “leftover” materials to repair your home. Very often, these are not left over from a previous job, but rather poor quality materials. Some states report that common household paint has even been used in fraudulent waterproofing scams. What can you do?

        • Get all proposals and contracts in writing.
        • Get a second opinion.
        • Check the identification of the workers.
        • Inspect the work before it is covered – or ask independent and qualified people to check the work for you before it is covered and you pay for it.

         

        HOME OWNERSHIP ISSUES

        If your home is damaged and you can’t live there, you still have a mortgage. Contact your lender immediately. Many institutions are allowing a grace period during which they may suspend your obligation to make mortgage payments.

        Mortgage help from FEMA may be available if you face foreclosure proceedings.

        • FEMA operates a Disaster Housing Program to help homeowners who have been forced out of their homes by disasters. This includes Disaster Home Repair Assistance, which provides grants to homeowners for minor but necessary disaster-related repairs. Call the FEMA Disaster Helpline at 1-800-621-FEMA.

        You may be eligible for loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to make necessary repairs.

        • The SBA makes low interest loans of up to $200,000 to homeowners to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate.

        If you have a mortgage insured by the FHA (HUD) or VA, you may have additional protections, like a forbearance on the mortgage payments or a period of suspended payments. The FHA has extended its foreclosure moratorium and also offers extended payment plans on FHA mortgages. Call 1-888-297-8685 for further information.

        HOME REPAIR SCAMS

        Consider any offer that is made on a “now or never” basis to be fraudulent. Ask to sleep on any offer and get a phone number to call back.

        Deciding on a Contractor

        1. Check to see whether the company is local. Does it have a tack record with references in the area? Can you see previous work. Take a look at the company vehicle: Does it have the company name, address, and phone on it?
        2. Get at least two bids in writing.
        3. Look at the contractor’s business license, and keep the number.
        4. Check with the Better Business Bureau or friends and neighbors to make sure complaints haven’t been filed against the company.
        5. If someone offers you a “special deal” in exchange for your credit card number, forget about it. And if someone promises you a loan in exchange for a fee in advance, say no. Deal with established lenders only.
        6. Pay in installments as the work is completed or in one large payment once the work is done and has been inspected. Before you pay, insist that the contractor give you a sworn statement that all materials have been paid for and all subcontractors have been paid. This protects you from liens that may be placed on your property if all suppliers and subcontractors haven’t been paid.

        Paying for Repair Work

        • Never sign your insurance check over to a contractor. Instead, arrane with your bank for a Certificate of Completion. The bank will pay the contractor for each stage of the job only after you have given your okay.
        • The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) operates a Disaster Housing Program to help homeowners who have been forced out of their homes by disasters. This includes Disaster Home Repair Assistance, which provides grants to homeowners for minor but necessary disaster-related repairs. Call the FEMA Disaster Helpline at 1-800-621-FEMA.
        • The U.S. Small Business Administration makes low interest loans of up to $200,000 to homeowners to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate.
        • If you get a loan to pay for the work, be cautious about using your home as security: If you don’t repay the loan as agreed, you could lose your home. Consider asking an attorney to review the loan documents.
        • If you used a credit card to pay for a product or service in dispute, you may be able to recover your money. Write the credit card company a letter with the details of the matter; you must do this within 60 days after you get the disputed bill.
        • If you suspect a repair rip-off, contact the consumer division of your state Attorney General. For a list, visit www.naag.org.
        • If you suspect fraud, waste, or abuse involving FEMA disaster assistance programs, report it to Dept. of Homeland Security's Inspector General’s Office at 1-800-323-8603.

           

         

        IDENTITY THEFT

        Guarding Against Identity Theft in the Aftermath of a Disaster

         

        JOB SCAMS

        www.ftc.gov/complaint

        PEST CONTROL

        RENTAL LISTING SCAMS

        UTILITY RELATED SCAMS

         

        WATER TREATMENT OR PURIFICATION DEVICES

        Fraudulent firms may try to sell you overpriced or useless water treatment devices by offering to test your water for free. Offers to test the tap water in your home for free are almost always part of a sales promotion. No single device can solve all kinds of water problems. Don’t drink any tap water until the local authorities have said it’s okay.

        If you’re on a public water system, your local water-utility office can tell you about water safety problems and what to do. The health department can answer your questions about private wells. And if the seller claims the water treatment device can remove contaminants, don’t buy it until you find out if the seller is properly registered and the treatment system is properly certified with the state department of public health.

        Most disaster-related job scams involve advertising job opportunities, such as floor clean up or other labor), and require a payment in advance. But they don’t produce a job. Job listings from 800 and 900 numbers are of special concern. Classified ads telling you to call a 900 phone number for a job referral are an expensive way for someone to read you classified ad listings. Report job scams to the FTC at , or 1-877-FTC-HELP.

        Disaster clean-ups bring out pests. Check any offers of free inspections: They could result in unnecessary and expensive treatments. Get a second opinion. After a natural disaster, so many people are in need of someplace to live. In a rental listing scam, someone promises to find you housing, but asks you to pay for the promise in advance. Usually state law requires a prepaid rental listing service to give you a written contract. Read it carefully. Meanwhile, know that con artists may try to charge you a fee for the promise of housing that doesn’t exist.

        Sometimes, fraudsters lie about the quality of the water supply to get you to buy overpriced or useless water treatment devices. Or door to door con artists portray themselves as utility workers checking out safety issues. They’re really casing your place. Ask for identification before you let anyone in, and make sure you can believe it by checking out the company 

        •  

          • If you are recovering from the effects the California wildfires, you will need to share your personal information to get relief benefits from government agencies or other organizations, or replacement identification documents. Be cautious. Identity thieves may be posing as government officials or representatives for government agencies. Ask for identification, and when possible, initiate contact yourself using information posted on official websites or in official information dissemination areas.

             

          • If you find that you inadvertently gave out your personal information to a thief, if your wallet was stolen, or if you are concerned that your information may be accessible to thieves, contact your financial companies about closing your accounts. When you open new accounts, place passwords on them. Avoid using your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.

             

          • If you inadvertently gave out your Social Security number to a thief or know that it was stolen, you may want to place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Fraud alerts can help prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts. But note that when you place a fraud alert on your credit file, companies take certain steps to verify your identity before they issue you credit. You may experience a delay in getting credit, especially if you have lost some or all of your identification documents. If you decide that placing a fraud alert is appropriate, call the toll-free fraud number of one of the following credit bureaus:

            Equifax: 800-525-6285
            Experian: 888-397-3742
            TransUnion: 800-680-7289

             

          • If you’re concerned that you may be a victim of dentity theft, you can check your credit report. If an identity thief is opening new credit accounts in your name, these accounts are likely to show up on your credit report. You can get your report free from www.annualcreditreport.com, or 1-877-322-8228. Check your report to make sure it is accurate.

             

          • For more information about guarding against identity theft and resolving problems, visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft or call 1-877-IDTHEFT.

        ___________________________________________________________________________________

         

        What's one sure sign of a scam? if a stranger asks you to wire money.  Here's what the Federal Trade Commission says:

        Wiring Money

        Scammers come up with all kinds of convincing stories to get your money. And many of them involve you wiring money through companies like Western Union and MoneyGram.

        Why do scammers insist that people use money transfers? Because it’s like sending cash: the scammers get the money quickly, and you can’t get it back. Typically, there’s no way to reverse a transfer or trace the money, and money wired to another country can be picked up at multiple locations, so it’s just about impossible to identify or track someone down.

        In some cases, agents of the money transfer company have been in on the fraud. In fact, the FTC found that between 2004 and 2008, agents of one wire transfer company helped fraudulent telemarketers and other con artists trick U.S. consumers into wiring more than $84 million within the United States and to Canada alone.

        What You Need to Know

        Money transfers can be useful when you want to send funds to someone you know and trust – but they’re incredibly risky when you’re dealing with a stranger. Remember:

        • Wiring money is like sending cash; once it’s sent, you can’t get it back. Con artists often insist that people wire money – especially overseas – because it’s nearly impossible to reverse the transfer or trace the money.
        • Never wire money to strangers or someone you haven’t met in person. That includes:
          • Sellers who insist on wire transfers for payment
          • An online love interest who asks for money or a favor
          • Someone advertising an apartment or vacation rental online
          • A potential employer or someone who says it’s part of your new online job
          • Someone who claims to be a relative or friend in dire straits – often in a foreign jail or hospital – and wants to keep it a secret from the family
        • Never agree to deposit a check from someone you don’t know and then wire money back. The check will bounce, and you’ll owe your bank the money you withdrew. By law, banks must make the funds from deposited checks available within a day or two, but it can take weeks to uncover a fake check. It may seem that the check has cleared and that the money is in your account. But you’re responsible for the checks you deposit, so if a check turns out to be a fake, you owe the bank the money you withdrew.

        Money Wiring Scams

        Money wiring scams can involve dramatic or convincing stories. Here are some you may have heard about:

        • Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams: The letter says you just won a lottery. All you have to do is deposit the enclosed cashier’s check and wire money for “taxes” and “fees.” Regardless of how legitimate the check looks, it’s no good. When it bounces, you’ll be responsible for the money you sent.
        • Overpayment Scams: Someone answers the ad you placed to sell something and offers to use a cashier’s check, personal check or corporate check to pay for it. But at the last minute, the buyer (or a related third party) comes up with a reason to write the check for more than the purchase price, asking you to wire back the difference. The fake check might fool bank tellers, but it will eventually bounce, and you’ll have to cover it.
        • Relationship Scams: You meet someone on a dating site and things get serious. You send messages, talk on the phone, trade pictures, and even make marriage plans. Soon you find out he’s going to Nigeria or another country for work. Once he’s there, he needs your help: can you wire money to tide him over temporarily? The first transfer may be small, but it’s followed by requests for more – to help him get money the government owes him, to cover costs for a sudden illness or surgery for a son or daughter, to pay for a plane ticket back to the U.S. – always with the promise to pay you back. You might get documents or calls from lawyers as “proof.” But as real as the relationship seems, it’s a scam. You will have lost any money you wired, and the person you thought you knew so well will be gone with it.
        • Mystery Shopper Scams: You’re hired to be a mystery shopper and asked to evaluate the customer service of a money transfer company. You get a check to deposit in your bank account and instructions to withdraw the amount in cash and wire it – often to Canada or another country – using the service. When the counterfeit check is uncovered, you’re on the hook for the money.
        • Online Purchase Scams: You’re buying something online and the seller insists on a money transfer as the only form of payment that’s acceptable. Ask to use a credit card, an escrow service or another way to pay. If you pay by credit or charge card online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Insisting on a money transfer is a signal that you won’t get the item – or your money back.
        • Apartment Rental Scams: In your search for an apartment or vacation rental, you find a great prospect at a great price. It can be yours if you wire money – for an application fee, security deposit or the first month’s rent. Once you’ve wired the money, it’s gone, and you learn there is no rental. A scammer hijacked a real rental listing by changing the contact information and placing the altered ad on other sites. Or, she made up a listing for a place that isn’t for rent or doesn’t exist, using below-market rent to lure you in. If you’re the one doing the renting, watch out for the reverse: a potential renter will say she wants to cancel her deposit and ask you to wire the money back – before you realize the check was a fake.
        • Advance Fee Loans Scams: You see an ad or website – or get a call from a telemarketer – that guarantees a loan or a credit card regardless of your credit history. When you apply, you find out you have to pay a fee in advance. If you have to wire money for the promise of a loan or credit card, you’re dealing with a scam artist: there is no loan or credit card.
        • Family Emergency or Friend-in-Need Scams: You get a call or email out of the blue from someone claiming to be a family member or friend who says he needs you to wire cash to help him out of a jam – to fix a car, get out of jail or the hospital or leave a foreign country. But he doesn’t want you to tell anyone in the family. Unfortunately, it’s likely to be a scammer using a relative’s name. Check the story out with other people in your family. You also can ask the caller some questions about the family that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer.

         

         

        Hang up on Robocalls!

        From the Federal Trade Commission:

        The FTC's Robocall Action Plan

        Under the Telemarketing Sales Rule, calls that deliver a recorded message trying to sell you something are illegal, unless you’ve given written permission for the caller to call you.  These “robocalls” are illegal even if your phone number is not registered on the National Do Not Call Registry

        Most legitimate businesses adhere to the Telemarketing Sales Rule and do not place illegal robocalls.  Unfortunately, however, the prevalence of illegal robocalls has increased significantly in recent years due to technological advances that make it easier and cheaper to:

        • make large numbers of robocalls to consumers from anywhere in the world
        • fake Caller ID information in an attempt to obscure location and evade law enforcement

        The FTC is working on multiple initiatives to combat the problem of illegal robocalls, including:

        1. Continuing Aggressive Law Enforcement
          The Federal Trade Commission continues to target high volume offenders and pursue “chokepoints” in the calling process to stop the largest number of illegal calls. The agency has stopped companies responsible for making billions of robocalls since September of 2009, and will continue to identify, locate, and prosecute those responsible for illegal robocalls.
        2. Gathering Evidence Strategically
          The FTC is pursuing an innovative strategy to gather evidence about illegal robocalls directly and act on this information as quickly as possible.  Check this website for more details in the next few months.
        3. Pursuing Technological Solutions
          FTC staff continue to hold meetings and calls with engineers, technologists, and industry experts to discuss technological solutions to better trace illegal calls, combat caller ID spoofing, and stop illegal calls.
        4. Hosting Summit with Law Enforcement, Industry, and Other Stakeholders
          On October 18, 2012, the agency will host a public summit on robocalls. Check here later for further details.What to Do If You
          Get a RobocallTo Do When You Get One

        What's a Robocall?

        If you pick up the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, that's a robocall.

        If the recording is a sales message and you haven't given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal. Period.

        What To Do When You Get a Robocall

        In short:

        1. Hang Up. Do not press 1 or any other numbers to get off the list.
        2. Consider blocking the number.
        3. Report it at www.donotcall.gov.

        For more info on what to do:

        Spread the News and Shareable Tips: