Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Protecting Yourself during Tax Season

It’s that time of year again and identify theft is a major concern for taxpayers. Recognized by the Federal Trade Commission as Tax Identify Theft Awareness Week, we figured it was a great opportunity to hit on IRS scams. In recent attempts, scammers start by stealing your social security number then fraudulently file a tax return in your name. They request a large refund payout from the IRS, run off with your hard-earned cash and leave you to clean up the mess. Often times, victims don’t learn about the scam until they find out that more than one tax return has been filed in their name or they see submitted wages from an unknown employer. 

So what can you do as a taxpayer to protect yourself from being victimized? Most importantly, keep your social security number protected and understand that the IRS will never contact you by email, text or social media message to request your personal information. Second, don’t wait until the last minute to file your tax return. Thieves won’t be able to steal your refund if you’ve already filed it yourself! Finally, keep an eye out for letters from the IRS during tax season. If someone steals your identity and files a duplicate tax return, the agency will send you a letter to report the problem.

If you think you may be a victim of tax identity theft, contact the IRS immediately to report the fraud. The IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit can be called directly at 1-800-908-4490. You can also file a complaint with the FTC by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP or visiting their website.  

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Sharing the Road with Motorcycles

The 17th annual Thunder by the Bay has an estimated 40,000 motorcyclists and enthusiasts coming to Sarasota County and heading downtown for four days of festivities. To ensure all motorists remain safe, here are some tips to keep in mind when motorcycles are sharing the road. 
  • Check all mirrors and blind spots for motorcycles before changing lanes or merging with traffic, especially at intersections. Motorcycles are smaller than cars, and can be easy to miss. They also require more distance and time to brake and slow down than cars do, so it is very important to signal your intentions. 
  • Motorcyclists must react to many changes in road conditions that other motorists might never notice. A rider may slow down, speed up, or quickly change position within a lane to account for potholes, gravel, wet or grooved pavement. Give riders space and never assume that a motorcycle will stay where it is. 
  • Keep your distance. Following too closely might end in a minor accident between two cars, but when a motorcycle is involved, it could be deadly. 
  • Make a conscious decision to look for motorcycles. Just like we watch for children while driving through a neighborhood, watch for motorcyclists any time you’re on the road. Just think, if you’re specifically looking for them, you’re sure to catch everything else which creates a safer roadway for everyone!
For those of you who prefer the thrill of two wheels, check out Discovery’s Top 10 Motorcycle Safety Tips and stay safe out there! 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Be Smart About Buying Gift Cards

The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers about purchasing gift cards for the holidays. It used to be that the only concern about gift cards were unexpected service fees or expiration dates. While you should still read the terms and conditions on the card you intend to buy, you now need to check the security seal to make sure it is intact and shows no signs of tampering. Be particularly cautious about buying gift cards from online auctions where it is virtually impossible to tell whether the cards have any value remaining, whether they've been tampered with or if they're expired. In addition, it's also good advice to consider the financial condition of the retailer issuing the card. If the store is on shaky ground, you might want to select another card. For more helpful tips and charity reviews, visit

Monday, December 8, 2014

Public Safety Advisory on Dangerous Synthetic Drug

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office is warning citizens about 25i-NBOMe, a synthetic phenethylamine similar to LSD that gives the user a euphoric feeling at first, but can cause disorientation and violent behavior that may also lead to death.

A recent overdose on 25i by a Sarasota County teen who is now recovering sparked an investigation by detectives. In all, five individuals were arrested this weekend: 16-year-old Kyle Baker, 11517 Dancing River Lane, Venice; 18-year-old Cooper Barkow, 954 Ryan Court, Venice; 18-year-old John Johnston, 6226 21st Avenue North, Sarasota; 25-year-old Richard Reese, 1303 12th Street, Sarasota; and 18-year-old Kyler Blessitt, last known address in Asheville, North Carolina.

The NBOMe compounds are substantially more potent than other hallucinogenic drugs, and extremely small amounts can cause seizures, cardiac and respiratory arrest, and death. Synthetic drugs like these, which are sold on the Internet, have no consistent manufacturing processes and may contain drastically differing dosage amounts or a mix of several unknown adulterants. When the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classified 25i and two similar substances as Schedule I drugs, they stated the action was to avoid an imminent hazard to public safety. 

"People are playing Russian roulette when they use synthetic drugs," said Sheriff Tom Knight. "Just like our very public push to warn citizens about the dangers of K2 years ago, I am issuing this warning because everyone needs to know these harmful drugs have made their way into our community and that they have potentially deadly effects." 

In addition to seizing 26 hits of 25i, Detectives and Tactical Unit Deputies recovered nearly 60 grams of marijuana, 9.1 grams of MDMA or "molly," 5.3 grams of hash and some butane hash oil. 

"This investigation began with an overdose from which, thankfully, the teen is recovering" continued Knight. "As stewards of public safety our ultimate fear of course is that we find out about these 'new' synthetics in a circumstance even worse than this one, when recovery isn't an option." 

Watch the story of an Arizona woman who lost her son to NBOMe.

Friday, November 21, 2014

In the Market for a New Home? Renters, beware!

When it comes to looking for a place to live, websites and apps like Zillow, Trulia, Craigslist and ultimately offer consumers everything they need without picking up the phone. With the touch of a few buttons, an application fee, security deposit and first month’s rent can all be wired to the homeowner before they even show the property.
Once you find the perfect place, all you have to do is wire the money to the homeowner who happens to be out of the country, but has a plan to get the keys in your hand - perhaps through an “agent” or lawyer working on their behalf. 

Here’s the catch – some of these listings don’t exist or are posted by fraudsters. And once you wire the money, it’s gone. As we’ve seen locally and warned about in the past, some scammers hijack legitimate listings by changing the contact information and posting them on a different site. Maybe the photos are of a home that isn’t even up for rent, or listed at an address that doesn’t exist! Whatever the case, if you haven’t done your homework you can say goodbye to the money you sent.

Here’s a suggestion. If you contact the homeowner, “Realtor” or “manager” by email or online and receive a reply with these characteristics, steer clear and reconsider how you’re searching:  

1. The email starts out with Sir/Madam
2. There are misspellings scattered through the email
3. Character mistakes are ample: i.e. Hello,my nameis Susie.
4. Excessive capitilization is used
5. The email references the UK, Cashier's Checks, Doctors, Nigeria, etc. 
6. The writer prefers to communicate via email and doesn't want to talk on the phone

If you think you may be a target of a rental scam, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. And as always, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

They billed you HOW much? Warning Signs of Medicare Fraud

While it’s safe to assume that most physicians and healthcare providers practice with integrity, we would be foolish not to believe that there are a few bad eggs out there taking advantage of consumers. Medicare fraud wastes millions of dollars every year and results in higher taxes for everyone. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services provides online tools to help detect and prevent fraud and abuse. Let’s say you’re looking over a Medicare bill and suddenly feel completely overwhelmed. How can you tell if you’ve been overcharged and if so, who can you trust enough to tell? Begin by looking for resources and ask for help. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Let’s say you’re not a victim, but have suspicions about your provider. Here are some of the warning signs to look for:

  • Your provider offers equipment or service for free, tells you it won’t cost you anything and they only need your Medicare number for their records
  • Your provider tells you they “know how to get Medicare to pay” for the equipment or service
  • The more tests they provide, the cheaper the tests become
  • They tell you they won’t charge you a copayment without first checking your ability to pay
  • They use pressure or scare tactics to sell you high-priced equipment or medical services or threaten to withhold care 

Be wary of suspicious providers and continue to stay on top of your personal healthcare. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is! 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Warning about the IRS Scam

The latest scam to sweep the U.S. is reaching citizens right here in Sarasota County. It comes from a seemingly familiar entity – the IRS – and here’s how it happens: A citizen receives a phone call from area code 202 (Washington, D.C.) with a voice on the other end of the line claiming to be an IRS employee warning of an impending lawsuit. If no one answers, they simply leave a message. Some scammers even go as far as to alter their phone number so that you will read ‘IRS’ on the caller ID. Victims claim that the caller threatens to have their utilities shut off, driver’s license revoked or even have them sent to jail. Scammers are frequently hostile and aggressive, apparently in an attempt to intimidate their potential victims.

Some of the characteristics of the scam include:

  • The caller using a fake name and IRS badge number
  • The caller might recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security number
  • Callers follow up with bogus IRS emails to support their phone 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

 Here’s what the IRS tells us about this scam:

  • If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The employees at that line will help with payment issues, if you have any
  • 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
  • File a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant; choose "Other" and then "Imposter Scams.” If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes

Our advice – if area code ‘202’ pops up on your caller ID, don’t pick up. Allow the caller to leave a message and use your best judgment in returning their call. Something else we learned from the IRS – if you do actually owe them money, they will contact you in person or by certified mail. No one is going to call you and they’re certainly not going to turn off your power!