Scam alert: The IRS won’t phone you to make threats

phone-scammer

Police are warning residents in West Springfield about phone scammers pretending to be IRS agents. Actually, this scam is happening throughout the country – and it’s likely to continue because the IRS says that thieves have conned more than $5 million from victims already.

Here’s how it works: You get a call from an alleged agent who tells you that you owe back taxes. These are pretty sophisticated scammers – they may spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling. They may even know the last 4 digits of your Social Security number. The caller threatens to jail you, send police, deport you, seize property or freeze accounts if you don’t take immediate action. The callers are said to be very aggressive and threatening and make repeat calls. After they hang up, they may have other people call you to pretend they are local police or other officials who “corroborate” the scam.

Another variation is to tell you they owe you money and they need details of your bank account to send it to you. There’s always a “you need to act immediately” aspect to the scam.

One North Carolina couple describes how the scam that bilked them out of $16,000 went: they withdrew money from the bank and bought a prepaid credit card and read the number to the fake agent over the phone.

Who are the most susceptible victims? The elderly. Immigrants worried about deportation. People who actually do owe money and are worried about it. But anyone, really. Most of us think we are too smart to be scammed but even smart people can be fooled by master criminals who know how to expertly prey on our trust, our fears or our greed.

If you have elderly parents or neighbors, you may want to alert them to this scam!

Here’s what the IRS says:
The IRS has issued repeated warnings but have issued another recent phone scam warning due to the volume of the calls happening around the country.

There are clear warning signs about these scams, which continue at high levels throughout the nation,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail. A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment. This is not how we operate. People should hang up immediately and contact TIGTA or the IRS.”

Additionally, it is important for taxpayers to know that the IRS:

  • Never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone.
  • Never insists that taxpayers use a specific payment method to pay tax obligations
  • Never requests immediate payment over the telephone and will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. Taxpayers usually receive prior notification of IRS enforcement action involving IRS tax liens or levies.

“It Started Like Any Other Day” – Be Prepared

prepareathon
September is National Preparedness Month – a time for you, your family, your workplace and your community to devote energies to ensuring you are prepared for emergencies and natural disasters. Think it’s unlikely that a disaster will happen to you? That’s what everyone thinks – check out the brief video to meet three survivors from three recent natural disasters: Hurricane Sandy; the Moore, Oklahoma tornado; and the Poinsettia Wildfire outside of San Diego, They talk about how suddenly and dramatically their lives changed when disaster struck.

This month, learn how you can take part in America’s PrepareAthon. Check out the resources and learn what protective measures to take before, during and after an emergency. It’s particularly important to have a plan and to have an emergency kit.

It’s also a pretty good time to check with your local insurance agent to see if your current coverage is adequate to protect your most important assets in the event of a disaster.

More funny insurance ads to start your week

It’s back to business and back to school after the long holiday weekend. We thought that one way to gentle you back into the work week would be to post a few ads from our humor file.

The first is a cute one-minute “ad-nimation” – a clever promotion for certified general accountants in Quebec.

SHEEP from Guillaume Blanchet I Filmmaker on Vimeo.

The second is a post from Central Beheer an insurance company located in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, a firm that is renowned for its clever advertisng.

Don’t lose money on prepaid debit cards!

debit-cards

Prepaid cards are popular because they are easy to get, you can avoid cash and you don’t need a bank account to get one. Plus, because they are debit cards and not credit cards, you only spend up to what is loaded on the card. They are popular for everything from gift cards to paychecks — and re-loadable prepaid cards are increasingly popular for travel and as a funding source for kids going away to college.

But – and there is a huge butnot all prepaid cards are created equal. If you are not careful, you can wind up paying outrageous fees and charges to buy the card, to use the card, to add money to the card, and more. Plus, not all prepaid cards are backed by the FDIC, so if they are lost, tough luck (although you might check with your agent to see if your Homeowners policy will cover a cash loss up to a limit – typically no more than $200). To make matters worse, prepaid card scams are proliferating so you need to be on the alert.

While prepaid cards can be a good choice in some circumstances, It’s really important to be a smart consumer and to educate yourself about the pros and cons before you buy. Here’s a quick video from consumer.gov that talks about how you can lose money.

And here are a few good resources to educate yourself about prepaid cards and how to be an smart consumer.

Kudos to RI kids and their awesome coach for a great life lesson

The nation has been riveted by the spectacle of Little League pitching phenomena Mo’ne Davis this past week – quite the sporting story indeed. But while all eyes have been on Ms. Davis, here in New England, we’ve had our own reason to be proud.

A big hurrah to the kids from Rhode Island’s Cumberland American Little League who represented New England so well in the recent Little League World Series. Kudos also to their stellar coach, David Belisle, who offered the kids a moving lesson in sportsmanship and how to handle loss. The team will be welcomed home today – expected arrival at Diamond Hill Park in Cumberland at 5 p.m.

The speech is a little more inspirational than this classic one!

Deferring Social Security can yield higher monthly benefits

Waiting to take Social Security benefits after your full retirement age will increase your monthly benefits as much as 76 percent, according to the nonpartisan National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI). This short video explains why.

Here’s an example of how claiming benefits earlier or later would affect  someone who would be earning $1000 at the normal retirement age.

social security exampleNASI says offers this advice:

  • If you need Social Security to make ends meet, take it. You’ve earned it.
  • If you can wait, even a year or two, your monthly benefit will be higher – for the rest of your life.
  • If you are married, you have two lives to plan for. If you are the higher earner, waiting to take Social Security means a higher survivor benefit for your spouse if she or he outlives you.

You can visit Social Security to get an estimate of your retirement benefits. Once on Social Security, can you expect benefits to go up? Most years, there is a small increase called a cost of living adjustments (COLA). To see how much Social Security benefits have increased over the years, see this chart on COLA increases from 1975-2013.

Small business insurance: Learn the basics

There’s a lot more to business insurance than getting the lowest business insurance quotes. It means understanding your business’s unique needs and the potential hazards that can threaten its success. The Insurance Information Institute (III) offers a good primer on Small Business Insurance Basics, which outlines and explains the major coverages: Property, Liability, Business Auto and Workers’ Compensation. The article also offers a brief explanation of other common business coverages, including coverages for various types of liability.

Many small businesses opt for BOP coverage or Business Owners Policy. This packages several common business coverages in one package, but note that III says:

“BOPs do NOT cover professional liability, auto insurance, worker’s compensation or health and disability insurance. You’ll need separate insurance policies to cover professional services, vehicles and your employees.”

Explore more business insurance basics

Celebrate World Lion Day (but don’t try this at home)

world-lion-day

Sunday is World Lion Day, a global campaign to celebrate the importance of the lion and to help prevent these majestic creatures from going extinct. If you’d like to learn more about how to support lions, click for a list of organizations active in lion conservation and research.

And we have a few amazing videos to get you in the spirit.

The first is a fun & fascinating clip of lions interacting with a robotic camera buggy -like any cat, they were most curious and photographer Chris McLennon got some truly remarkable shots – up close and personal. If you can’t access the video, see some photos and animated gifs here.

The next is an 11 minute clip on Kevin Richardson, called the Lion Whisperer due to his unique bond with these terrifying but majestic predators. Incredible!

If these videos remind you of their domestic counterpart, the housecat, you may be inspired to adopt a slightly tamer cat from your nearby shelter!

Go local! Support your Farmer’s Market

farmers-marketGet to know your local farmers! August 3-9 is National Farmers’ Market Week – a great time to support your local farms and to stock up on some nutritious, delicious, seasonal fresh food. It’s a great way to support your local community and local economy — and it’s good for the environment, too since the food doesn’t need to be packed and shipped over long distances. Farmers are food experts and can offer great recommendations about how to store and prepare the food they grow.

Find a New England Farmer’s Market near you!

 

Be prepared: Get the free Red Cross Tornado App

tonado-appHere in New England, tornadoes aren’t the norm — but we do have occurrences, as was seen in Revere this week, along with several other sightings. There have been 162 tornadoes in Massachusetts alone since 1950, according to the National Weather Service – Boston.com has a roundup of Tornadoes of Massachusetts Past. Springfield is still recovering from the June 1, 2011 tornado, in which three were killed. And the older crowd among us may recall the horrific tornado in Worcester in 1953, which killed 93. Wikipedia has a historical roundup of Tornadoes in New England

With the rarity of events, tornadoes are not top of mind awareness for people when bad weather looms. Get the free Red Cross Tornado app to have everything you need to know to prepare for a tornado in the palm of your hand. To download: text “GETNADO” to 90999 or search “Red Cross Tornado” in the Apple App Store or Google Play.

Some of the app features include:

  • Step-by-step instructions to help you know what-to-do even if the cell towers and TVs are down. Prioritized actions for before, during, and after requires no mobile connectivity.
  • Audible siren that automatically goes off even if app is closed when NOAA issues a TORNADO WARNING helping to reduce the chance of sleeping through an actual warning.
  • Push notification sent when a WARNING expires – especially important if power goes out while you or your family are in your safe room.
  • Info on how to assemble an emergency kit for your family in the event of power outage or evacuation and how to make an emergency plan.
  • Info on the difference between a tornado warning and a tornado alert.
  • Red Cross location-based open shelters map for when you need it most.
  • Learn how to deal with food and water impacted by floods and power outages.
  • Let others know where you are with the Toolkit’s strobe light, flashlight and audible alert functions.