Defend Yourself Against IRS Scammers

Published in Woonsocket Call on March 27, 2016

With federal regulators reporting a surge in tax-related fraud schemes, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and Rhode Island’s Division of Taxation are requiring new income tax filing requirements. The AARP Fraud Watch Network also gears up its efforts to protect consumers from Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Imposter Scams.

According to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), an aggressive and sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, is making its rounds throughout the nation. Here’s the scam. A caller claims to be employed by the IRS, but they are not. To be seen as legitimate the con artist uses a fake names and even rattle off a bogus IRS identification badge numbers. The caller ID may even be altered to make it look like the call is coming straight from the IRS. .

Usually victims are told they owe taxes to the IRS and it must be quickly paid through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer or they will suffer the consequences. If the victim refuses to cooperate with the federal agency, then they are threatened by the con artist with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting. Victims may also be told they have a refund due to try to trick them into sharing private financial information. If the phone isn’t answered, the scammers often leave an “urgent” callback request.

Knowledge is Power over Scammers

To combat this growing problem, the AARP Fraud Watch Network gears up its educational campaign, with digital advertising featuring a new tip sheet and online video to combat the “IRS Imposter Scam.”

Our goal is to warn consumers and empower them with the knowledge they need to keep their family members from falling victim to the IRS imposters,” said Nancy LeaMond, Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer, AARP. “Once they recognize certain red flags, they will be confident in resisting the aggressive bullying and scare tactics used by the scammers.”

The Fraud Watch Network campaign is advising consumers that legitimate IRS agents do not call and demand immediate payment. The IRS will not call about owed taxes without making contact by mail. The IRS will not require a taxpayer to use a specific payment method to make a tax payment, such as a prepaid debit card; or ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone. Finally, the IRS will not threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

For more information about the IRS scam and other tax-related frauds, visit http://www.aarp.org/FraudWatchNetwork. Consumers who think that they are being targeted by a scammer may call the FWN helpline at 877-908-3360 and speak with a trained counselor.

Federal and State Efforts to Protect Tax Payers

The IRS, announces that many newly implemented safeguards are now in place that consumers may not even be aware of, but are invaluable in fighting against the stolen identify refund fraud. Many of these changes are designed to better authenticate the tax payer’s identity and validate the tax-return at the time of filing.

The most visible change is new password protections for private-sector ax software accounts. Newly implemented standards require a minimum 8-digit password using a combination of letters, numbers and special characters. There also will be new security questions, new lock-out features and new ways to verify emails.

IRS’s password standards are intended to help protect taxpayers from identity thieves who take over their software accounts and file fraudulent tax returns using their names and Social Security numbers.

In a January 19, 2016 Advisory for Tax Professionals, Rhode Island’s Division of Taxation is putting in processing safeguards to protect an estimated 600,000 Ocean State taxpayers. Acting Tax Administrator Neena S. Savage announced that this tax season all taxpayers and preparers who file electronically will be asked to enter a driver’s license number as part of the tax preparation process.

“This is another way to verify your identity and the validity of your return before the processing of the return is completed,” says Savage, noting that the new filing requirement for is part of a coordinated and collaborative effort among the states, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, tax software providers, and others to help protect taxpayers from identity theft that may lead to tax refund fraud.

The requiring a taxpayers driver’s license is just “another layer of protection because identity thieves may already have your name and Social Security number, but perhaps not your driver’s license number,” says Savage, adding that this will assist states in matching driver’s license information with other identifying records to help confirm the filers identity.

“Tax software will prompt you for your driver’s license number. The information will be transmitted only in electronically filed returns; it will not appear on paper returns. It will also be safeguarded along with the rest of your tax return information,” adds Savage. The return will not be rejected if a taxpayer does not have a driver’s license number, or does have one
but does not provide it, she said.

New Phone app Fights IRS Phone Scam

With the April 18th Tax Day deadline fast approaching, Whitepages, a Seattle, Washington–based company releases an update for its ID app for Android that blocks suspected IRS scammers. The new Auto-Blocker automatically stops “IRS Imposter Calls” from reaching the user.

“Fraudulent phone scams are on the rise and, while some carriers and handset makers are starting to solve this problem, consumers need ways to educate and protect themselves,” said Jan Volzke, Vice President, Reputation Services at Whitepages. “While the IRS scam is far from the only unwanted call identified by our leading technology, it’s certainly top of mind this busy tax season. We want to help ease concern by making sure a large majority of those calls never reach their intended targets.”

Whitepages says, of the 300 million incoming calls that the company scans monthly in the U.S., more than 15 million are classified as “unwanted.” Last year, Whitepages identified the IRS scam as the number one type of scam call, with more than 1.2 million of these types of calls being made per month, accounting for at least 8 percent of all calls blocked by users. In addition, comparing February data from 2014 to 2016, IRS scam calls have grown exponentially, at nearly 2,500 percent over the past two years.

The new updated Whitepages ID app automatically blocks any incoming calls that have been identified by the company’s proprietary algorithms as being a known IRS scam number. The Alto-Blocker also includes the blocking of numbers that the IRS has officially flagged as suspicious.

While the Auto-Blocker stops IRS scam calls from ringing phones, users have the option to keep this auto feature on, or adjust the protection level based on type of call including: Scam or Fraud, Suspected Spam, Hidden Numbers, or International Numbers.

As scammers switch phone numbers in an effort to avoid detection, phone users will be alerted to popular or new area codes where scam calls are originating, so they can remain on the defense against numbers that may not yet have been blocked.

Finally, users can easily report IRS specific scam numbers back to Whitepages to be put on its block list.

Whitepage’s new app is free and available on GooglePlay.

Advertisements

Congressional Panel Looks Over Medicare

Published in Woonsocket Call on March 20, 2016

Last Wednesday’s hearing of House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee signals the panel’s interest to bring Medicare, a federal health insurance program for people age 65 and over, into the 21st century to meet the needs of its current 55.3 million beneficiaries.

At the March 16 hearing, Chairman Pat Tiberi (R-OH), stated that “Today’s seniors [are] inundated with an array of confusing deductibles, coinsurance and copayments with no protection from high health care costs unless they enroll in a private plan. Despite major improvements and innovations in the health care sector that have transformed how care is delivered, traditional Medicare has barreled through the last 50 years on the same trajectory of increased costs and little innovation.”

In addition to the structural challenges facing the program, critical parts of Medicare are expected to run out of money by 2026. In other words, the benefits Americans were promised stand to disappear if policymakers don’t act soon, says Tiberi.

Putting the Spotlight on Medicare

Tiberi’s March 16 Health Panel hearing, entitled “Preserving and Strengthening Medicare,” held in room 1100 of the Longworth House Office Building, brought together three witnesses to discuss ways to sustain the nation’s Medicare program and to keep it from going bankrupt. From both sides of the aisle and expert witnesses all agreed that the federal government’s current approach to delivering high-quality health care is not working. As a result of an outdated Medicare program and harmful Obamacare policies, today’s seniors “must navigate a disjointed program, face rising health care costs, and have fewer healthcare choices,” says the GOP panel chairman.

“Of federal entitlements, Medicare presents the most difficult challenges,” says Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Robert Moffit, warning that the Trust Fund “faces insolvency in 2026.”

At the hearing, Moffit gave his fix for revamping Medicare that have bipartisan support and promise to shore up the ailing entitlement program. He called for the Medicare program to be simplified by combining Parts A and B – including catastrophic coverage, an out-of-pocket cap, a single deductible, and uniform coinsurance in a single plan along with bringing reforms to Medigap coverage. Also, retargeting Medicare benefits to low-income enrollees can provide assistance to lower-income enrollees. Increasing Medicare’s eligibility age to 67 (the same eligibility age for Social Security) along with encouraging innovation and cultivating competition through Premium Support can put the brakes to rising program costs.

When it comes to simplifying Medicare and incorporating catastrophic coverage, Tiberi had called the need for reform a “no-brainer.” Moffitt overwhelmingly agreed, stating, “It is a no-brainer. It is absolutely a no-brainer … [seniors] do not have protection from the most important thing that health insurance should deliver, which is that ultimate protection.”

As Moffit explained, the lack of catastrophic coverage in Medicare not only puts financial strain on the beneficiary, but it also causes a significant increase in unnecessary health care spending.

Coming Up with a Commonsense Approach

In her testimony, Katherine Baicker, Harvard University Professor of Health Economic and serves on the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, also called for commonsense solutions, specifically focused on the need for increased competition. She heighten the role that Medicare Advantage program plays in promoting innovation, as well as providing more seniors flexibility, choice, and quality at an affordable cost.

Baicker emphasized, “A thriving and competitive Medicare Advantage program can be a vital contributor to high quality beneficiary care in a sustainable health care system.”

When Baicker was asked which Obamacare provisions Congress should work to immediately repeal in an effort to protect Medicare Advantage, she replied, “I would like to see the cap on quality bonuses removed … and removing the double bonus for quality so that you’re appropriately rewarding plans for delivering the high-quality care that beneficiaries are seeking out.”

Finally, Stuart Guterman, senior scholar in residence at
AcademyHealth, told the panel that he believes the nation’s largest purchaser of health care can do more to ratchet up quality, enhance quality and coordinate care and control costs. “Because of Medicare’s unique position, it can be an important testing ground for cost and quality innovations. Policies have been put in place that encourage such development, including the expanding the power of the Secretary of Health and Human Services to put pilot programs on a ‘fast track’ and to work with private payers and providers to establish multi-payer initiatives.”

At the conclusion of the two hour hearing, like Baicker, Tiberi stressed the importance of bolstering support for Medicare Advantage, which serves approximately one-third of seniors today. Obamacare cut billions of dollars from Medicare Advantage and redirected those resources toward a one-size-fits-all, Washington-run entitlement, he says.

Tiberi also noted, “If we continue to berate a system that has been widely successful…I don’t think that’s a really good way to try to figure out how we bester serve patients, seniors, in a more cost-effective value-added, comprehensive way.”

Watching from the Sidelines

But, one aging group expressed strong concerns about the Health Panel’s look at Medicare. In his released statement, Max Richtman, President/CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security Medicare (NCPSSM), viewed the Health Panel hearing as “an Orwellian political exercise in which politicians say preserve when they actually mean privatize, and strengthen when they mean slash.”

“Republicans in the House envision a future in which millions of seniors will lose their guaranteed Medicare benefits in favor of a privatized CouponCare system in which they receive a government coupon to try and buy private insurance. Millions of seniors in Medicaid will lose their benefits due to block-granting to states without providing the resources to pay for it. The repeal of the Affordable Care Act will leave tens of millions without insurance and strip benefits from seniors in Medicare,” says Richtman in NCPSSM’s statement.

Furthermore, “The Republican leadership has offered no plans to improve benefits in Medicare or make reforms to reign in the skyrocketing price of drugs and healthcare costs system wide. Instead, the GOP vision for seniors in Medicare is they must just do more with less. Stagnant wages are grinding away at the middle class’s ability to save for retirement. Many employers have significantly scaled back or eliminated the traditional retirement benefits offered to their employees. As a result, current and future retirees simply cannot afford proposals to cut benefits, raise the eligibility age or privatize the program,” says in the NCPSSM statement.

Finally, the aging advocate warns that the GOP majority on the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee majority is moving to replace the nation’s traditional Medicare program in favor of a fully privatized system, and the GOP controlled House is in the process of producing a budget that would do just that.

A Democratic or Republican President? Which political party controls the House and Senate? When the dust settles these answered questions may result in a restructuring of the Medicare program, that may either be strengthened and expanded or put on the budgetary chopping block by the new incoming President or Congress. It’s a no brainer…Sitting on the political sideline will ultimately be detrimental to your pocketbook and coverage you receive for your health care.

Social Security Gets Attention at Debate

GOP Candidates Share Their Plans for Shoring Up System’s Solvency

Published in Woonsocket Call on March 12, 2016

Last Thursday, the four surviving G0P contenders for president at the CNN Republican debate at the Bank United Center on the campus of the University of Miami, focused on meaty policy issues and not theatrics. Previous debates were heated and sparks flew between candidates. But many political wonks consider this one to be subdued, may be even a little boring. Like the other 11 debates, on March 10 Ohio Governor John Kasich, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Businessman Donald Trump and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, gave their two cents on scores of policy issues including, the right to bear arms, trade, jobs, illegal immigrants, education, national security, fighting ISIS, Iran’s nuclear deal and protecting Israel. But one political hot potato issue, Social Security, even got a little more air time during this debate.

With Florida having the highest percentage of retirees in the country, with nearly 3.1 million residents receiving a Social Security check, CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, brought Social Security into the debate by asking the candidates how they would keep the nation’s retirement program afloat for future generations.

Bash called on Rubio to explain his position on rising the retirement age and reducing benefits for wealthy retirees. The Florida Senator said he would not cut Social Security checks, joking that “I’m against any changes to Social Security that are bad for my mother, a Social Security recipient.”

Younger Generations Take Brunt of GOP Fix for Social Security

Rubio warned that Social Security will ultimately go bankrupt taking the country down with it. So, here’s his fix. “So what it will require is people younger, like myself, people that are 30 years away from retirement, to accept that our Social Security is going to work differently than it did for my parents,” he noted.

The 44- year-old Florida Senator, called for increasing the retirement age of younger persons to age 68 ultimately to age 70, suggesting that Social Security checks should not “grow as fast as someone who made less money.”

“Medicare could very well become the option of using my Medicare benefit to buy a private plan that I like better. Medicare Advantage does that now,” said Rubio.
Explaining what he favors making changes to Social Security, Rubio noted that “in less than five years, only 17 percent of our budget will remain discretionary; 83 percent of the federal budget in less than five years will all be spent on Medicare, Medicaid, the interest on the debt.”

CNN moderator Bash called on Trump to explain why he did not want to raise the Social Security retirement age and his rationale for not wanting to cut benefits to wealthy retirees.

Trump responded by saying that his democratic opponents oppose cutting the retirement program, evening wanting to give recipients “even more.” The businessman, becoming more of a politician, clearly sees how the heated political issue, of making changes to Social Security, will bring votes to the Democrats. ”And that’s what we’re up against. And whether we like it or not, that is what we’re up against,” he says.

“I will do everything within my power not to touch Social Security [either making benefit cuts or rising the eligibility age”. Trump believes the solution is “to make this country rich again; to bring back our jobs; to get rid of deficits; to get rid of waste, fraud and abuse, which is rampant in this country.” He notes that catching improper retirement payments will also increase the solvency of the program.

Time Can Allow a Fix for Social Security Program

In response to those warning about the impending bankruptcy of the Social Security program if changes are not made, Trump says he would have a “a long-time to go,” possibly over 20 years, to increase the solvency of the program. It seems that he does believes that time will be on his side to fix Social Security, if he becomes president.

“The numbers don’t add up,” charges Rubio, to Trump’s assertion that reducing fraud and waste and in Social Security, the nation’s foreign aid programs and better purchasing policies. He chides both the Democrats and GOP for taking too long to “deal with” the solvency of Social Security.

With the spotlight on Cruz, the Texas Senator explained his advocacy for allowing younger workers to put some of their Social Security taxes into a 401 (k) accounts even with the

As president, Cruz pledges that he will not make any changes to Social Security that will impact anyone at or near retirement. “Every benefit will be protected to the letter,” he says, “But for younger workers, we need to change the rate of growth of benefits so it matches inflation instead of exceeding inflation.”

Finally, CNN moderator Bash, reminded Kasich of his position of cutting retirement payments. The Ohio Governor told a New Hampshire voter: “Get over cuts to Social Security benefits,” he says.

Kasich brought up his 1999 plan to save Social Security by allowing young people to have private retirement accounts. During a light hearted moment, Kasich quipped this memorable quote: “Now there are more 18-year-olds who believe they have a better chance of seeing a UFO than a Social Security check and we have a lot of seniors who are very nervous.”

Kasich’s plan to save Social Security is quite simple. “If you’ve had wealth throughout your lifetime, when the time comes to be on Social Security, you’ll still get it. It will just simply be less. And for those people who depend on that Social Security, they’ll get their full benefit. That’s the way it will work. And we don’t have to monkey around with the retirement age. And how do I know that? I’ve done all this before,” he told millions watching the two hour debate.

The writing is on the wall. 2016 GOP candidates for president, except Trump, look to make changes to Social Security to ratchet up the program’s solvency. Those calling for change say they won’t increase program eligibility, cut benefits or privatize the program, to impact aging baby boomers nearing retirement or for current Social Security recipients.

While differing on their political strategies, Democratic presidential contenders — former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders, — seek to strengthen and expand Social Security.

Generation’s X, Y and Z might will consider looking closely at Democratic and Republican presidential candidate positions on fixing Social Security. November’s winner might just tinker with your future retirement program or slash benefits, ultimately impacting how you will financially survive in your retirement years.

AARP Exec Seeks to Change America’s Perception of Growing Old

Published in Pawtucket Times on March 7, 2016

With the youngest of the aging baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, reaching their fifties, AARP launches a new ad campaign geared at connecting people’s hopes and dreams. According to a statement, this initiative was built on the foundation laid by the 2014 launch of Real Possibilities and “You Don’t Know ‘AARP,’” last month, the nonprofit unveiled its latest ad campaign that shines a spotlight on individuals tackling everything from brain health to new careers, introducing a new meme, “We Hear You.”

As part of AARP’s renewed focus on listening and responding to Americans over age 50, “We Hear You” highlights the many ways the organization celebrates life in extended middle age and helps people turn their dreams into realities. Also new in 2016, the ads feature AARP’s CEO Jo Ann Jenkins delivering the iconic “We Hear You” line to underscore the organization’s genuine commitment to helping baby boomers take control of their lives and their futures.

“We’ve seen Real Possibilities and “You Don’t Know ‘AARP’” really take hold over the last two years,” said AARP Senior Vice President of Brand Integration Barbara Shipley. “Now, we have a chance to add more momentum by putting a human face on the brand. The campaign shows very real people expressing wants and needs in terms of careers, travel, caregiving, brain health and fraud protection. It also introduces Jo Ann and her “We Hear You” message to prove we are in tune with what people are looking for at this time of their life.”

According to AARP, since Jenkins became AARP’s CEO in 2014, she tirelessly advocated for changing outdated beliefs and sparking new solutions so that everyone can live and age as they choose. The advertising campaign echoes many themes from her forthcoming book Disrupt Aging, most notably “own your age.” The book is now available for preorder on Amazon for $15.87 (hardcover). Copies will be available on April 5.

The first of the ads features AARP’s Life Reimagined program and will air during NBC’s primetime all-star tribute to Jim Burrows on Sunday, February 21. The second ad featuring the award-winning AARP the Magazine will air during the 88th Academy Awards on Sunday, February 28. The remaining spots will be rolled out throughout the year.

Redefining How We Grow Old

Next month, AARP/CEO Jo Ann Jenkins releases her new 272 page book, Disrupt Aging: A Bold New Path to Living Your Best Life at Every Age. AARP’s top official suggests it’s time to redefine what it means to grow old in America. Throughout its pages the Northern Virginia resident encourages readers to re-think the negative stories they consistently tell themselves and others, urging them to come together to change both the conversation about aging and its reality. While sharing these ideas with others, and meeting fearless people working to change what it means to age in America, Jo Ann was inspired to write her book.

Jenkins’s life experience and affiliation with AARP, the nation’s largest aging organization representing over 38 million members, brings her the needed life experiences to pen this tome. She is the chief executive officer of AARP. Previously, she served as its COO and, before that, president of AARP Foundation, AARP’s affiliated charity. Before joining AARP, she was the COO of the Library of Congress. She has received the Library of Congress Distinguished Service Award and in 2015 was named Influencer of the Year by the Nonprofit Times.
“60 Is Not the New 40.”

Jenkins notes that everyone has watched ads on TV or seen and in magazines—”50 is the new 30″ or “60 is the new 40.” AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins disagrees. 50 is 50, and she, for one, likes the look of it. In her highly focused but down-to-earth personal style, Jenkins says Disrupt Aging is not about defying aging or denying aging. It’s about “owning” your age.

In Disrupt Aging, Jenkins focuses on three core areas—health, wealth, and self—to show people how to embrace opportunities and change the way society looks at getting older. Here, she chronicles her own journey and that of others who are making their mark as disruptors to show readers how we can be active, healthy, and happy as we get older. Through engaging narrative, she touches on all the important issues facing people over age 50 today, from caregiving and mindful living to building age-friendly communities and making our money last.

Disrupt Aging provides readers practical, hands-on, highly useful information for a broad range of key issues, including: Taking Control of Your Health; Choosing Where You Live – or Want to Live; Financing Your Future; and Putting Your Experience to Work.

In Praise of…

Jenkins’s philosophy on aging has touched a chord with a number of aging experts and prominent persons who give their thumbs up to the project.

Arianna Huffington, cofounder, president, and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, says “Jo Ann Jenkins doesn’t just challenge the stereotypes of aging, she reduces them to rubble, showing that our later years can be just as productive, meaningful, and purposeful as our primary working years. Disrupt Aging is for anyone who insists on living a life of connection, engagement, expansion, and possibility—at any age.”

“Jo Ann Jenkins’s Disrupt Aging is spot-on: every single year is a gift. By confronting the most common stereotypes about aging, this book will help us all live each year to the fullest,” adds Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and founder of LeanIn.Org.

Even Jeff Gordon, four-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion throws in his two cents about Disrupt Aging. . “Jo Ann Jenkins believes that age and experience can expand life’s possibilities for all of us. In this personal and thought-provoking book, she inspires us to seize the opportunities that longer lives give us and to embrace aging as something to look forward to, not something to fear.” Adds, Dan Marino, former NFL Quarterback, “In Disrupt Aging, Jo Ann Jenkins lays out a game plan for living your best life regardless of your age.”

Jenkins says that her book is for anyone who wants to continue exploring new possibilities in their later years, to celebrate new discoveries over declines, and to seek out new opportunities to live the best life there is. To order Disrupt Aging, go to http://www.amazon.com.

.