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It’s tax season! Is the IRS looking for you?
Here are some things to consider about income tax issues:
1. SCAMS: As I noted in my previous blog posting on May 27, 2016, there are plenty of scammers out there trying to fool you into thinking that you are in trouble with the IRS or New York State Tax Department and conning you into paying them money. They call you and demand payment for bogus arrears and ask for your charge card information and other personal identification.
More recent scammers are sending emails with links to bogus web sites where they also seek charge card and other personal information. The cleverest one is a fake IRS tax notice that claims you owe money as a result of the Affordable Care Act (Obama care.) These notices look like real IRS CP 2000 notices saying your income doesn’t match the information reported on your tax return.
Don’t fall for any of this! Don’t be a victim!
The tax authorities will never assert an arrears claim by phone, social media, or email. If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of any of these claims, contact your tax preparer or give my office a call at 585-67-8529.
2. tax identity theft: Sometimes scammers will have obtained enough personal identification to file bogus tax returns in your name without your knowledge. This can cause all kinds of problems for you regarding collection attempts, credit reporting issues, and confusion when you file your own “real” return.
The best ways to avoid tax identity theft?
• File your tax return as early as possible.
• Use a secure internet connection if you file electronically, or mail your tax return directly from the post office.
• Know the IRS won’t contact you by email, text, or social media. If the IRS needs information, it will contact you by mail.
• Check your credit report for free at annualcreditreport.com to make sure there are no unauthorized accounts.
3. Tax arrears management: Sometimes you legitimately owe tax arrears. It happens for all kinds of reasons but if you know that you will owe the tax authorities money make sure you file a timely return, regardless. Don’t ignore the problem.
By filing the return, even if you can’t pay timely, you will avoid additional penalties. You also will avoid being unable to discharge older tax obligations in a bankruptcy, if you ever need one. In addition, if you have to negotiate a workout of some sort at some time with the tax authorities, having a record of timely filing will make it much easier for you to negotiate a more favorable program.
If you have problems with the tax authorities of almost any kind, they can be fixed. If you need help, please call my office. I have over 30 years of experience in dealing with both the IRS and the New York State Department of Taxation and can sincerely say that I have resolved client problems in almost every case on favorable terms.
Anyone can set up shop online under almost any name. Confirm the online seller's physical address and phone number in case you have questions or problems. And if you get an email or pop-up message that asks for your financial information while you’re browsing, don't reply or follow the link. Legitimate companies don't ask for information that way.
Read the seller's description of the product closely, especially the fine print. Words like "refurbished," "vintage," or "close-out" may indicate that the product is in less-than-mint condition, while name-brand items with bargain basement prices could be counterfeits.
Check out websites that offer price comparisons and then compare "apples to apples." Factor shipping and handling into the total cost of your purchase. Do not send cash or money transfers under any circumstances.
Can you return the item for a full refund if you're not satisfied? If you return it, who pays the shipping costs or restocking fees, and when you will get your order? A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rule requires sellers to ship items as promised or within 30 days after the order date if no specific date is promised. Many sites offer tracking options, so you can see exactly where your purchase is and estimate when you’ll get it.
If you pay by credit or charge card online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Under this law, you can dispute charges under certain circumstances and temporarily withhold payment while the creditor investigates them. In the event that someone uses your credit card without your permission, your liability generally is limited to the first $50 in charges. Some companies guarantee that you won’t be held responsible for any unauthorized charges made to your card online; some cards provide additional warranty, return, and purchase protection benefits.
Print or save records of your online transactions, including the product description and price, the online receipt, and the emails you send and receive from the seller. Read your credit card statements as you receive them; be on the lookout for charges that you don’t recognize.
Email is not a secure method of transmitting financial information like your credit card, checking account, or Social Security number. If you begin a transaction and need to give your financial information through an organization's website, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a URL that begins https (the "s" stands for secure). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some fraudulent sites have forged security icons.
If you have problems during a transaction, try to work them out directly with the seller, buyer, or site operator. If that doesn't work, file a complaint with:
A recent article in the Buffalo news (http://bit.ly/2fpDUUO) highlights the difficulties faced by innocent debtors who have to deal with dishonest or overly aggressive debt collectors.
A lot of people have debt, sometimes because of their own poor decisions but more often because of unfortunate job losses, health problems, and overwhelming financial difficulties that can happen to anyone, anytime.
Responsible debtors will do what they can in an honest attempt to address their obligations. However, that doesn't stop dishonest or overly aggressive debt collectors from harassing debtors, lying to them about going to jail for not being debts, or exploiting their circumstances by padding debts, making false claims, attempting to collect debts which are legally uncollectible, and more.
No one should have to put up with this kind of activity. Sometimes, the governmental authorities discover this kind of activity and put an end to it, as noted in the article. However, most of this bad activity goes unnoticed by those authorities and innocent folks are deceived, harassed, and exploited by these bad actors.
Debtors should be aware that they do have rights under both federal and state law to deter and control these activities. If you are a debtor, you have a right to insist upon written verification of the debt and the amount. You have a right to be free of collector contacts during unreasonable times and improper places (like your workplace.) You have a right to know whether the debt being collected is legally uncollectible because of the statute of limitations, meaning it is too old to be subject to legal collection. You have the right to force the collector to stop collection activity entirely upon your request.
If you are being challenged by these types of collectors, assert your rights!
If you believe you need help, you can contact my office and I will bring my 30+ years of experience dealing with collection activity to bear on your behalf.
The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has again promulgated new consumer-friendly rules, this time for prepaid account users. Prepaid accounts are those where consumers pay for transactions and access funds electronically using a plastic card, often issued by employers.
Up until now, however, consumers had few rights and remedies, using these cards.
The new rules require free and easy access to account information, require error resolution rights and protections for lost cards and unauthorized transactions, and up-front disclosures of costs and other terms and conditions.
For example, before offering credit the issuer must ensure consumer ability to pay; it must provide a monthly billing statement and reasonable time to pay, and limits on late fees and interest charges. Most importantly, there are protections (similar to but not as extensive) for the consumer from unfair practices by issuers like those of regular credit cards.
More information can be found at this link:
Marketeers are again pushing hard to sell reverse mortgages. If you are over the age of 72 and want to cash out on any built-up equity in your homestead, you may qualify for a reverse mortgage.
You can convert your homestead equity into a monthly annuity or a lump sum cash amount. You can use the income and/or proceeds to supplement your cash flow, pay for home repairs and improvements or other bills, or spend some or all of the money on recreational wants like that long-delayed vacation to Hawaii.
A reverse mortgage may work for you depending on your circumstances. Keep in mind, that drawing upon the income and/or lump sum will reduce the value of the home which you may wish to will to children or other dependents. If you take a lump sum, and need to apply for Medicaid later for acute nursing home care, that lump some may disqualify you from Medicaid eligibility. Also, the costs associated with placing a reverse mortgage are generally quite high– you are giving up monetary value simply in the placement.
Nonetheless, if you have a significant need for cash flow subsidies or lump sums for bills or emergencies, a reverse mortgage may be a good option. Federal law does require you to obtain guidance from a designated counselor to help you decide. That doesn't necessarily mean that you will get the clear information and unbiased guidance that you want.
My practice has been reviewing reverse mortgage programs and guiding consumers for years. I provide unbiased, informed, and experienced guidance. If you are considering such a program, you may wish to contact my office for assistance BEFORE you commit.
So, you bought or leased a new car, RV, boat, or other big-ticket item. Now, you realize you got a bad deal, a bad trade-in, were pressured into signing something you did not really want to, or were really gouged on the price or other terms.
Not only are you paying more then you should be or for something you don't want but you feel cheated.
This is a bad situation that can be fixed in many cases if you know your legal rights and options. Don't, however, rely on the thought that you can cancel a bad deal within three days of signing because that's usually not true. The three day right to cancel rule applies only to limited situations, primarily to door-to-door sales. That usually means big-ticket items like auto purchases or leases can't be canceled, UNLESS there are facts and circumstances which can give you an out.
Even contracts which on their face appear to be fully binding, can be broken, rescinded, or renegotiated if you know how to do it. That means analyzing the contract and the circumstances surrounding it to determine whether you have grounds to get out of a bad deal.
Sometimes, you can argue that excessive sales pressure makes a transaction invalid. Sometimes, you can argue "mutual mistake" in the purchase price or lease terms. Sometimes the dealership makes technical errors in the paperwork which you can take advantage of.
The key to all this is to find out where your leverage is and to push the right buttons with the dealership representatives to get the result you want.
My office just recently was able to cancel or renegotiate unfair deals on recreational vehicles and leased automobiles, much to the satisfaction of our clients.
Don't think that there's no hope! If you need help in any situations like these, feel free to contact the Law offices of John Suda. ( 585-687-8529)
GAS LINE RESPONSIBILITY
Many homeowners are receiving solicitations from at least one company offering to provide insurance for home gas line breakdowns which are the responsibility of the homeowner. Generally, a private company or municipal utility is responsible only for the gas line running from the street (or easement) to the home’s meter. Inside lines to furnaces and other appliances are the responsibility of the homeowner.
Statistics show that serious gas line leaks or problems occur very rarely. More people die each year falling out of bed than from gas explosions, according to published statistics.
Nevertheless, problems can occur, although the cost to the homeowner of repairs is generally fairly modest – running from $140 or so to repair/replace a shut off valve to several hundred for replacing a large section of supply line.
The cost of this insurance is fairly high, running about $70 per year. The likelihood that a homeowner would need repairs over the course of home ownership costing more than the insurance per year is very low.
The question is whether a homeowner ought to purchase this insurance are not.
The first consideration is that it is quite unlikely that you will ever need to draw upon the policy. The second consideration is that the policy costs will likely exceed any repair costs over any extended period of ownership. The third factor is the quality of the insurer itself. Some of these companies have a spotty history including facing complaints by state attorney generals and by consumers themselves.
I recently did a quick check against one company promoting itself in Western New York and found that it had over 220 consumer complaints over a three-year period. (Although its Better Business Bureau rating is A+.)
My advice to homeowners would be to consider any purchase of this insurance carefully, taking into consideration the items noted above, and do not be made fearful that you are in personal or financial jeopardy without having this insurance.
If you have any questions or problems regarding ANY consumer issues contact the Law Office of John Suda.
Phone: 585-687-8529 Website: www.johnsudalaw.com
Barely 5 years old, federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has done more good for consumers than nearly any other institution, governmental or private. It regularly comes out with well-conceived, well-designed, and effective regulations to protect consumers from overreaching, self serving, or unscrupulous business activities.
Most recently, the Bureau came up with rules giving homeowners with mortgages more protections from incompetent or unscrupulous creditors and service agencies when homeowners are trying to renegotiate delinquent or problem mortgage situations.
Creditors and service entities, for example, have to give more notice to consumers of their rights to rehabilitate delinquent mortgages, allow successors in interest to deal with lenders and servicers, provide more notices to homeowners in bankruptcy, and more.
The Bureau also recently implemented a significant program to give pay day loan borrowers greater protections from overreaching lenders charging sky high interest rates and otherwise exploiting mostly working-class borrowers just trying to get by.
Some of these new regulations can be used by homeowners on their own to protect themselves. However, if you, or someone you know, needs help, you can rely on the John Suda Law Firm to be available to help out.
Home-improvement scams are a favorite way for miscreants to get their grubby hands on your money. In our area in Western New York, no license is necessary for anyone to hold themselves out as a home improvement contractor. In fact, they don't even need any skills or training.
If you are approached by a home improvement contractor or if you are searching for one, make sure you protect yourself.
Don't commit or sign any contract without checking out the contractor before hand. Ask for recent references, check any Better Business Bureau profile, use local contractors that you can verify, and if you know how and have an account, check the County Clerk's records where you live and where the contractor does business for judgments and lawsuits.
Make sure you are dealing with a professional, responsible, inexperienced contractor. Get more than one estimate and compare them. Don't assume that the lower price is the best deal.
New York State General Business Law provides that contracts generally be in writing and contain a number of consumer protection provisions, including a three-day right to cancel under most circumstances.
If you need help, the John Suda Law Firm is here to help you. We can research contractors, review contracts, and advise you on how to handle your relationship with your chosen contractor. In most circumstances, we can do all this at low cost.
Be careful out there!
Renewable energy production is environmentally friendly, public interest oriented, feasible, and growing as an energy source. Sooner or later, you will be participating in some fashion as a consumer or even as a producer.
National and regional producers are entering the Western New York area and are soliciting homeowners to lease land to them to construct solar panel farms and wind turbine units. Not only can homeowners make money from lease rentals from these producers but they sometimes get free energy for themselves.
However, these leases can be very complex and confusing. They are not necessarily written in the best interests of the homeowner. They can affect your access to your own property, restrict your ability to sell or refinance your home, and result in loss of certain property rights like farm production and mineral/oil production possibilities.
If you are solicited by one of these companies you should have the lease and the transaction reviewed by an experienced consumer attorney. My firm has represented homeowners in several of these transactions in the last couple of years. If you think you need help with one of these transactions please contact me at the John Suda Law Firm.
Here's one: Princess Diana
Photo credit: Flickr/tg250607
Initially, there didn’t appear to be any problems with Princess Diana’s will following her passing in 1997. Her will stated that her executors (her mother, her sister and the Bishop of London) were to pass on equal shares of her estate to her two sons when they turned 25. Plus, her 17 godchildren were supposed to receive certain possessions that belonged to the princess.
Apparently, however, Princess Diana also had a “letter of wishes” that divvied up her estate differently than her will indicated, giving her godchildren a greater share of her assets. But because the instructions in the letter weren’t added to the will, the executors reportedly ignored the letter. Instead of getting $440,451, each godchild inherited personal items like furniture and clothing.
Lesson? Review your existing will to make sure it reflects your intentions. If not, or if you have NO will, you can contact me to get this fixed.
John Suda Law Firm
I have heard from several clients and others that they are receiving phone calls from the IRS informing them of open claims and investigations regarding their tax situations. People are being threatened with lawsuits, judgments, levies, and worse.
You can safely ignore these calls!
The IRS does not call and assert claims against taxpayers. They always provide written notice with great details about any claims against you, to give you sufficient time to review and to respond to these claims.
If you do get one of these calls, either hang up, or tell them that you will report them to the Federal Trade Commission or the New York State Attorney General’s office. It would be helpful if you capture their phone number to provide to the governmental enforcement authorities.
Do not provide them with any personal information, especially charge card or bank account details.
If you feel you need more help please about these calls or any other tax matters with the IRS or New York State Department of Taxation and Finance contact the John Suda Law Firm.
Many consumers have been denied credit or overcharged excessive interest rates because of inaccurate entries on their credit reports. If you have been denied credit based on a credit report, you have a right to demand a free copy of the credit report used by the potential creditor as long as you make your request within 60 days of the denial. You can then check the accuracy of the report based on your own records or recollection.
Many, many credit reports contain inaccurate information, some of which will result in a denial of credit or an offer of excessive interest rates.
There is a federal law called the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) which gives rights to people when they dispute credit report information with a creditor. The creditor is required to have reasonable written procedures for handling disputes and then inform people about the outcome of their disputes. If they fail to do either of these things, within 30 days, they have violated your rights and you may have legal remedies against them.
If you are having creditor or credit report disputes of any kind which you cannot resolve yourself, you can draw upon the services of the John Suda Law Firm and I will advise you how to handle an inaccurate credit report, illegal creditor practices, or other credit-related issues.
If you have applied for Social Security disability and are awaiting for a determination from the Social Security Administration, be leery of getting phone calls from scammers offering to help you expedite or complete your application.
The Federal Trade Commission is reported that scammers are contacting people trying to obtain Social Security numbers, other identifying information, and seeking fees and payments from people fooled into thinking that these people are legitimate. If you fall for this scam, you are in line to be subject to identity and benefit theft.
You may want to report these calls to the Social Security fraud hotline at 1-800-772-1213. Or, give my office a call at 585-687-8529 and let me help you protect you from these scammers.
Even after years of public exposure, enforcement, and penalties, the issue of false or bogus that claims, robo-filings, and other illegal and improper practices continues to exist.
The latest is a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau action against a major debt collection law firm, Pressler and Pressler, LLP.
That firm was determined to have made false or bogus allegations about consumer debts, filed lawsuits based on unreliable or false information, and harassed consumers with unsubstantiated court filings.
The CFPB has obtained an injunction against this firm and its improper activities.
That doesn’t mean this type of activity won’t continue by other firms, collectors, and lenders.
The lesson is to be vigilant about debt claims being made against you and to seek legal counsel to help you defend against bogus or overstated claims. You do have rights and remedies.
Make sure you use them!
If you’re over 50 years of age chances are good that you’ve been solicited by an insurance company trying to sell you long-term care insurance to cover nursing home expenses in the event that you become in need of acute care.
There is good reason to be concerned about the costs of acute nursing home care, especially if you live in New York State. The cost of such care in New York is nearly 50% higher than the national average. In Monroe County alone, nursing home care runs approximately $11,000 per month, on average.
It makes good sense for most people reaching advanced age to be informed and to understand the nursing home payment situations. It is important to know what your options are, to select the option that works best for you, and to plan to make sure that your intentions become effective. For many people, obtaining Medicaid coverage for long-term care is a major consideration.
For those of you considering long-term care insurance, you should know that it is expensive and unnecessary for most people.
If you have questions about long-term care insurance, nursing home expenses, and Medicaid eligibility please call my office and ask me to inform and guide you about everything you’d want to know about these matters. You can reach me at 585-687-8529, or email me at John@JohnSudaLaw.com.
John Suda Law Firm
The Federal Trade Commission publishes all kinds of materials to inform and protect consumers. That information is available at this link: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov
You can find information about identity theft, reverse mortgages, scams, financial literacy, and more.
If you need specific guidance about any of these things or any consumer matters, please contact my office and I will help you with them. These kinds of matters are what I call "quick resolution" matters and I can provide that guidance efficiently and at very modest cost. 585-687-8529
Hello clients, friends, and members of the public! This blog will attempt to inform and educate readers about matters important to consumers, families, workers, and small businesses.
I hope you find the posts useful. Please contact me at anytime to offer suggestions for posts. Thanks, John