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Millions of Illegal Robocalls Remind: Know Your Rights

January 16th, 2017 · Consumer Info

Millions of Illegal Robocalls Remind: Know Your RightsIt’s one thing to be annoyed by robocalls. It’s quite another to have your rights violated by them. Unfortunately, too few consumers know what’s okay and what’s not. And knowing that difference can not only help you stop robocalls simply because they’re annoying, but also help you recognize when the callers are breaking the law. A new FTC action against violators reminds – know your robocall rights.

About the Alleged Violations

The FTC recently took action against two groups of defendants for allegedly making millions of illegal robocalls over several years’ time.

According to the complaints:

  • Telemarketing operator Justin Ramsey and other defendants in the case allegedly made robocalls trying to sell – or gets leads for – home security products. The problem is, millions of these robocalls were illegal because they were calling consumers listed on the national Do Not Call Registry.
  • Telemarketing operator Aaron Michael Jones and other defendants in the case allegedly made similar robocalls, not only trying to sell – or generate leads for – home security systems, but also extended auto warranties and search engine optimization services. Again, millions of these robocalls were illegal because the consumers were listed on the national Do Not Call Registry.

In addition to bans on any future robocalling, the court orders impose total judgments of over $10 million. Of that, only a little more than $500,000 will be collected due to inability to pay.

Your Robocall Rights

As reported by the Better Business Bureau (BBB):

Robocalls are LEGAL under the following conditions:

  • It’s a sales call from someone you gave written permission to call you
  • The robocall is about support for a political campaign or charity
  • The purpose of the robocall is purely informational (i.e., not trying to sell you something) – this applies to anything ranging from an appointment reminder to a message from a debt collector

Robocalls are ILLEGAL under the following conditions:

  • It’s a sales call from someone you did not give written permission to call you
  • You are on the national Do Not Call Registry

Actions You Can Take

  • Add your name to the national Do Not Call Registry
  • Do not give companies written permission to contact you (unless you want them to)
  • If you suspect it is an illegal call, hang up and submit a complaint to the FTC and BBB – it’s not only a matter of stopping the illegal behavior on the part of legitimate companies, but also rooting out scammers

Calls Coming from Debt Collector?

Make sure you know your debt collection rights, too.

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Free File Tax Software: What You Need to Know

January 13th, 2017 · Taxes

Free File Tax Software: What You Need to Know

Seventy percent of taxpayers qualify for Free File. It’s not only convenient, but a big money saver. “Since 2003, more than 49 million people have used Free File,” says the IRS, “saving more than $1.4 billion based on a conservative $30-fee estimate.” Find out all you need to know about qualifying and using Free File for your 2016 taxes.

Is it really free?

Absolutely. Provided you meet the necessary criteria, you really can file your taxes for free using name-brand tax filing software.

What are the criteria?

The main eligibility requirement is that your adjusted gross income in 2016 was $64,000 or less. (If you made more than that, you still have a helpful free option – not the free software, but free fillable forms.) Other criteria varies depending on the tax software company.

Which tax software companies offer the free filing option?

The IRS partners with 12 tax software companies who make up the Free File Alliance. They include:

  • 1040NOW Corp.
  • Drake Enterprises
  • ezTaxReturn.com
  • FileYourTaxes
  • Free Tax Returns
  • H&R Block
  • Intuit
  • Liberty Tax
  • OnLine Taxes
  • TaxACT
  • TaxHawk
  • TaxSlayer

Can I choose the software I want to use?

No. Each Free File Alliance partner has a different set of criteria for who can use their Free File option. That said, the IRS assures taxpayers that everyone will find themselves eligible for at least one of the free software programs.

How do I know which free software I’m eligible for?

Use the Free File Software Lookup Tool. It will determine which programs you’re eligible for based on:

  • Age
  • 2016 adjusted gross income
  • State of residence
  • Whether you are eligible for Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Whether you or your spouse receive military pay
  • Whether you want to file a free state return as well (not all Free File tax filing software companies offer this option)

Which forms and schedules do these free software programs provide?

Free File tax software programs include Forms 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ. They also include any schedules associates with all 1040 versions.

When can I start using Free File?

Tax filing season doesn’t official begin until later this month. But Free File opened today – January 13, 2017. So you can go ahead and submit your return through the tax filing software company and they will hold it for you until the IRS starts accepting them on January 23.

Is it safe?

While there is never any guaranteed means of protecting yourself from tax fraud, the IRS and its tax software partners have got you pretty well covered. As I blogged last year, the Security Summit stopped $1 billion in fraudulent tax refunds in 2016 and they have some impressive initiatives planned for 2017.

Now that you know how to file them for free, check out other good things to know about filing your 2016 taxes.

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How Do Your Experiences with Debt Collectors Compare to National Survey?

January 12th, 2017 · Debt Collection

How Do Your Experiences with Debt Collectors Compare to National SurveyIf you’ve been contacted by a debt collector within the past 12 months, a new national survey – the first of its kind, actually – should interest you. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) asked consumers nationwide about their experiences with debt collectors over the past 12 months. Here’s what they found out.

Threatening behavior

27 percent of consumers contacted by debt collectors felt threatened by them.

It is illegal for debt collectors to use abusive or profane language. It also illegal for them to threaten arrest or legal action that cannot be taken.

Failing to cease communication

40 percent of consumers contacted about a debt said collectors continued to contact them about the debt after they were asked to stop.

If you want a debt collector to stop contacting you, send a letter requesting that they cease and desist all further contact with you. Though you still owe the debt, it is illegal from that point on for the debt collector to continue contacting you about it.

Incorrect information

53 percent of consumers contacted about a debt said that something about the debt being collected on was inaccurate. Most commonly, they were trying to collect on the wrong amount, on a debt that had already been paid, or on a debt owed by a family member.

If a debt collector is using inaccurate information to collect on a debt from you, write them a letter informing them of it. And even if the debt looks right to you, it’s important to be sure the collection agency contacting you has the right to collect on it. So as soon as you receive the initial notice from them, write the collection agency a letter asking for debt validation.

Calling at the wrong times

36 percent of consumers contacted about a debt said collectors tried contacting them between 9 pm and 8 am. Those times are off-limits to debt collectors.

By law, they should only contact you between 8 am and 9 pm.

Excessive contact

37 percent of consumers contacted about a debt said debt collectors attempted contact 4 or more times a week. 20 percent said 4 to 7 times a week. And 17 percent said 8 or more times a week.

Though there is no law stating how many times a debt collector can contact you over the course of a week, they are prohibited from repeatedly calling just to harass you. If you feel the contact is excessive, consider the cease and desist request referenced in the “Failing to cease communication” section above.

Lawsuits

15 percent of consumers contacted about a debt said they were sued by a collector.

Unfortunately, only 25 percent of consumers sued for debts actually show up to the court hearing. This usually means an automatic ruling in the collector’s favor. Here’s the right way to handle it if you are being sued for an unpaid debt.

Think Your Rights Have Been Violated?

Learn more about your debt collection rights. If you think they have been violated, submit a complaint to the CFPB. You may also wish to consult with an attorney about taking legal action.

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