Gunning Daily News

Identity Theft Crackdown Sweeps across the Nation

February 2, 2012 3:20 pm

The Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department recently 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. The coast-to-coast effort took place over the last week and included indictments, arrests and the execution of search warrants involving the potential theft of thousands of identities and taxpayer refunds. In all, 939 criminal charges are included in the 69 indictments and information related to identity theft.

In addition, IRS auditors and investigators conducted extensive compliance visits to money service businesses in nine locations across the country in the past week. The approximately 150 visits occurred to help ensure these check-cashing facilities aren’t facilitating refund fraud and identity theft.

“This unprecedented effort against identity theft sends a strong, unmistakable message to anyone considering participating in a refund fraud scheme this tax season,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “We are aggressively pursuing cases across the nation with the Justice Department, and people will be going to jail. This is part of a much wider effort underway at the IRS to help protect taxpayers.”

“The Justice Department is working closely with the IRS to investigate, prosecute, and punish tax refund crimes committed through the theft of identities,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John A. DiCicco of the Tax Division. “Now, more than ever, we must remain vigilant against the unauthorized use of identification information to defraud the U.S. government.”

The national effort is part of a comprehensive identity theft strategy the IRS has embarked on 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.

The law-enforcement sweep started last week across the country, reflecting investigative efforts stretching back months and even years.

The nationwide effort by the Justice Department and the IRS led to actions taking place in 23 locations across the country with 105 individuals. The actions included 80 complaints/indictment, 58 arrests, 19 search warrants, 10 guilty pleas and four sentencings. A map of the locations and additional details on the actions are available on IRS.gov, the IRS Civil and Criminal Actions page and the Department of Justice Tax Division page.

To help taxpayers, the IRS earlier this month created a new, special section on IRS.gov dedicated to identity theft matters, including YouTube videos, tips for taxpayers and a special guide to assistance. The information includes how to contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit and tips to protect against “phishing” schemes that can lead to identity theft.

Identity theft occurs when someone uses another’s personal information without their permission to commit fraud or other crimes using the victim’s name, Social Security number or other identifying information. When it comes to federal taxes, taxpayers may not be aware they have become victims of identity theft until they receive a letter from the IRS stating more than one tax return was filed with their information or that IRS records show wages from an employer the taxpayer has not worked for in the past.

If a taxpayer receives a notice from the IRS indicating identity theft, they should follow the instructions in that notice. A taxpayer who believes they are at risk of identity theft due to lost or stolen personal information should contact the IRS immediately so the agency can take action to secure their tax account. The taxpayer should contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. The taxpayer will be asked to complete the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039, and follow the instructions on the back of the form based on their situation.

For more information, visit www.irs.gov.

Word of the Day

February 2, 2012 3:20 pm

Valuation. Estimated or determined value; synonymous with appraising.

Question of the Day

February 2, 2012 3:20 pm

Q: What are some important things to remember about closing day?

A: There are several. The following to-do list can help save you a few headaches and keep the closing on track:
• Keep extra money in your account. Something unexpected can pop up during the closing that will require more money out of your pocket. Take your checkbook. Even better, find out how much you will need to pay and write a certified check for the total amount.
• Take your loan commitment letter. Use it to verify loan approval in case of a mistake or misunderstanding with the lender.
• Take your contract to purchase. Pull it out if something a little suspicious comes up.
• Take your personal ID. A driver’s license or other personal identification will due.
• Do a before-closing inspection. It is always a good idea, when possible, to walk through the property to make a list of any problems.
• Utilities. Arrange in advance to have the water and electric meters read on closing day and the service switched to your name to prevent interrupted service. The same applies for the fuel tank.

America's Debt Report: Consumer News and Notes

February 1, 2012 5:40 pm

Despite lower unemployment rates and strengthening economic indicators, debt continues to be a pressing consumer issue with individual overall debt holding relatively steady amongst those seeking debt advice at an average of $15,227.

Consumer money resource Bills.com recently released its 2011 America’s “Debt Report,” which showed that overall debt ranks highest amongst West Coast consumers, with an average of $19,900. Credit card debt remains the most frequent type of consumer debt, and student loans rose by 4.5 percent to become the second most frequent type of debt. Three of the top four collection accounts are for telephone companies (Sprint, ATT, and T-Mobile), and despite discount brand status, non-bank credit cards issued by Walmart, Target, Sears and others registered high average balances.

“Consumers continue to be squeezed financially, but they are being practical and focused when it comes to deleveraging, which has become the buzzword and financial strategy of 2011,” said Brad Stroh, CEO and co-founder of Bills.com. “Those consumers forced into late payments are choosing low dollar bills with delayed penalties, while those in more severe debt are searching for the best debt relief strategy for their unique situation.”

Nationally, the average credit card debt is $5,500, and users hold an average of 2.5 credit card accounts. West Coast consumers hold highest credit card debt at $7,100, and banks are the top five credit card issuers amongst users.

Source: www.bills.com

Weight Loss Advice: Skip Calorie Counting & Burn Fat Instead

February 1, 2012 5:40 pm

In 2010, more than 25 percent of Americans had pre-diabetes and another 1.9 million got a diabetes diagnosis, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The single most effective way for people to avoid the disease? Losing weight.

This means that for some, losing weight has become a matter of life or death.

“The current obesity epidemic proves that the typical low-fat diet recommendations and low-calorie diets have not worked,” says Don Ochs, inventor of Mobanu Integrated Weight Loss Solution, a physician-recommended system that tailors diet and exercise to an individual’s fat-burning chemistry. “America is eating less fat per capita than we did 30 years ago, yet obesity, diabetes and heart disease are all up.”

To drop the weight and keep it off, people need to get rid of their stored fat by eating fewer processed carbohydrates and the correct amount of protein, and by doing both high and low- intensity exercises, Ochs says.

Here are some of his suggestions for getting started:
• Eat what your ancestors ate – if it wasn’t available 10,000 years ago, you don’t need it now. Our bodies haven’t had time to adapt to the huge increase in processed carbohydrates over the past 100 years. These refined carbs kick up our blood sugar levels, which triggers insulin production, which results in fat storage. Avoid candy and soft drinks, but also stay away from sneaky, sugary condiments like ketchup; dried fruits, which have more concentrated sugar than their hydrated counterparts, and anything with high fructose corn syrup.
• Eat the right kind of fat – it’s good for you! Bad fats include trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils. Look for these on labels. Trim excess fat from meats and stick with mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. Use olive oil for cooking, as salad dressing or on vegetables. Eat avocados, whole olives, nuts and seeds.
• Eat the proper amount of lean protein to maintain muscle mass and increase your metabolism. Eggs, legumes, meat and dairy in the right amounts are good protein sources. Remember, most of these contain fat, so it shouldn’t be necessary to add more. Use the minimum amount needed to satisfy your taste buds.
• Vary your workouts to speed up fat loss. Both high-intensity and low-intensity exercises play a role in maximum fat loss. Low-intensity exercise, like walking, is effective for reducing insulin resistance so you store less fat. Alternate walking with high-intensity interval training to build lean muscle mass and increase your metabolism. Interval training can be cardio blasts such as running up stairs on some days and lifting weights on others. This type of exercise forces your body to burn up its glycogen – a readily accessible fuel for your muscles—faster than an equivalent amount of cardio exercise. When you’re done, your body will replenish that fuel by converting stored fat back into glycogen and you’ll lose weight.

“Healthy weight loss isn't about picking a popular diet and trying to stick to it,” Ochs says. “It's about discovering the right diet for your unique body. For each person, the optimal amount of carbohydrates, proteins and exercise to burn the most stored body fat will be different. And that’s why one-size-fits-all diets just don’t work.”

Donald Ochs is a Colorado entrepreneur, the president and CEO of Ochs Development Co. and M4 Group, an inventor and sports enthusiast.

Word of the Day

February 1, 2012 5:40 pm

Valid contract. One that meets all requirements of law, is binding upon its parties, and is enforceable in a court of law.

Question of the Day

February 1, 2012 5:40 pm

Q: Is it possible to save on closing costs?

A: Certainly, once you get pass the sticker shock. Closing costs are expensive. They can average between 2 to 3 percent of the total home purchase price. But here are a few ways to save:
• Haggle with the seller. He may pay all or part of the closing costs.
• Nab a no-point loan. You may have to pay a higher interest rate, but if you are strapped for cash and can qualify for a higher interest rate, you may find this type of loan can significantly reduce your closing costs.
• Grab a no-fee loan. Although the fee is usually wrapped into a higher rate loan, it does offer one advantage – you get to save on the amount of cash you would need up-front.
• Secure seller financing. These loans typically avoid the traditional fees or charges imposed by lenders.
• Shop ‘til you drop for the best deal. Every lender has its own unique fee structure; you are bound to find one that works for you.

Auto Financing: 5 Keys to Getting the Best Loan Rate

February 1, 2012 5:10 pm

Auto loans are fairly easy to get—first, because the loan is backed by collateral in the vehicle, so lenders know they will get their money back or repossess the car—and second because most dealers will bend over backwards to sell you a car if they can reap extra profits by getting you financed.

In fact, according to Consumer Reports, because car loans are so easy to get, they are a good way for young people to establish credit.

At the same time, CR’s consumer advocates warn, buyers should make every effort to get that loan at the lowest possible interest rate. Here are five tips for doing so:

• Shop the rates first – Compare interest rates at various banks and credit unions before you visit the dealership. It’s an advantage to be preapproved for the loan before you shop for the car—and it gives you a basis for comparison if the dealership offers financing.
• Check the total cost of the loan – Focus on the annual percentage rate (APR). A lower rate produces significant long-term savings. Also consider the term of the loan, which affects both your monthly payment and the total loan cost. A shorter term means higher monthly payments, but will save you money in the long-term.
• Don’t buy just because the rate is low – A dealer may offer you a low cost loan, but only if you purchase a higher priced car—or a different model—than what you need or want. Consider that in the long run, you won’t be happy paying a few dollars less each month if you are not happy with the car itself.
• Your credit affects your interest rate – It’s a fact that buyers with great credit get better rates than those with poorer scores. Zero percent loans, for example, go exclusively to buyers with sterling credit. Check your score before you look for a car—and make an effort to fix any reporting errors before you shop for a loan.
• Separate financing discussions from auto price talks – Nail down the price for the vehicle before you discuss the loan. Many salespeople try to make it all one discussion by quoting you monthly payment rates. This is when a loan preapproval can make you the master of your fate.

Home Know-How: Understanding Condensation

January 31, 2012 5:36 pm

What do houseplants, a boiling pot of pasta and your shower all have in common? They all add moisture to your home's interior. And, while some humidity in the home is good, excessive moisture can be uncomfortable.

"We often get calls from homeowners who are concerned that their windows are 'sweating' or leaking either inside or outside the home because they see moisture on the glass," says Gary Pember, vice president of marketing at Simonton Windows®. "In reality, that's simply not the case. While condensation may collect on the interior or exterior of energy-efficient windows, the units are really doing their job by helping serve as a barrier in the home."

Pember points out that windows do not cause condensation—they simply prevent the moisture in the home from escaping to the outside. "If the inside glass surface on double- or triple-glazed windows show excessive moisture, you can be reasonably sure that the moisture is also collecting on your walls and ceilings," says Pember. "This means you should take steps to reduce the humidity level in your home by using exhaust fans and dehumidifiers."

What Can a Homeowner Do to Help Reduce Condensation?
Water vapor is part of our lives and our homes. To help control the amount of condensation in the home, try the following tips:

• Use kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans.
• If you have a humidifier, set it to the correct outside temperature.
• If your home is overly humid, or if you have a damp basement, use a dehumidifier.
• Properly vent clothes dryers, gas appliances and stoves.
• Open a window in the bathroom.
• Make sure your attic, basement and crawl spaces are well ventilated and free from obstructions.
• Open curtains and blinds to allow more air circulation around your windows.

Source: http://www.simonton.com

Gardeners Get a Jump on Spring

January 31, 2012 5:36 pm

Now that winter’s darkest days are (hopefully) behind us, spring is closer than you think. Get a head start on spring gardening and begin planning now for an easier and more rewarding gardening season. The following tips can help jumpstart your season.
• Scout your yard for shrubs than may have been damaged by snow, ice or wind. Prune broken branches cleanly, back to the next healthy joint or bud.
• Growing flowers from seed? Remember that some plants need a big head start. Petunias, impatiens, verbena and snapdragons, should be planted indoors under lights, 10-12 weeks before the last spring frost.
• Check houseplants for spider mites, aphids and scale. Give troubled plants a healthy boost with a cool shower, some fresh potting soil and a dose of liquid fertilizer.
• Packets of flower or vegetable seeds make a nice gift for Valentine’s Day. Just slip them in with your card and a potted primrose or bouquet of tulips.
• Mustard, ragweed, henbit and many other pesky weeds start growing with the first hint of spring. Keep them from sprouting by applying a weed preventer two weeks before the ground begins to warm up.
• Consider adding raspberries, blueberries, currants or other small fruits to your landscape. For the best selection, order dormant plants by mail. All should be planted in earliest spring as soon as the soil can be worked.
• Grow your own micro-greens. Plant leftover broccoli, radish or basil seeds in a pot and grow on a sunny windowsill. Snip young plants with scissors for a pretty garnish or a spicy addition to a salad.
• Take cuttings of geraniums, coleus, rosemary and other tender plants that you have overwintered indoors. Root them in water or in moist potting mix.
• Most perennials benefit from being divided every few years. The best time to do this is earliest spring just as new growth appears. Think about the plants that are most in need of dividing and make a list of them so this task doesn’t get forgotten in the rush of spring.

Source: http://www.preen.com