Attorney General Alerts
Military Saves WeekWed, Feb 24, 2016
Financial responsibility is an important part of everyday life, especially for military service members as they prepare for a number of uncertainties, including potential deployments. The Military Saves program is a component of America Saves and a partner in the U.S. Department of Defense’s Financial Readiness Campaign. Military Saves aims to educate military service members about saving money, reducing debt and building wealth.
The Military Saves program encourages participants to set goals and start small by saving loose change, taking advantage of military discounts and utilizing the commissaries and exchanges. These practices build on each other and will soon add up to substantial savings.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is joining these efforts by recognizing that this week is Military Saves Week.
“Setting financial goals can be a great start to getting out of debt and building an emergency fund,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “It is important for our military service members and their families to know about resources available to them to help save money and meet their financial goals.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following program list for members of the military to help save money:
- Set up a myPay account, which allows up to six allotments to automatically transfer funds each month into a savings account.
- Participate in the Thrift Savings Plan, which is a retirement savings and investment plan for military service members that offers the same types of savings and tax benefits that many corporations offer employees under 401(k) plans.
- Take advantage of the Savings Deposit Program if a deployment is scheduled. Up to $10,000 can be deposited during each deployment and will earn 10 percent interest annually.
As part of Military Saves Week, representatives from Attorney General’s Rutledge’s staff are participating in an information fair at the Little Rock Air Force Base, as well as presenting an identity theft prevention program and judging the financial literacy challenge.
If there is an issue, Arkansas military service members, veterans and families should file consumer complaints with the Attorney General’s office on ArkansasAG.gov or by calling (800) 482-8982.
For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.
Fake IRS Calls Scam ConsumersWed, Feb 17, 2016
Scam artists are continuing to pose as Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents, attempting to pressure Arkansans into turning over personal information or cash. They often demand that the consumer share private information in order to either receive a refund or to pay taxes immediately to avoid being arrested, but it is all an attempt to steal a person’s identity or take their money.
These IRS impersonators can be very convincing and have swindled more than $26.5 million from over 5,000 victims across the country since October 2013. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reports that roughly 896,000 people across the U.S. have been contacted by such con artists during that same period.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to, once again, warn Arkansans of this scam and offer tips to recognize it, before falling victim to these criminals.
TIGTA reports these con artists have also been known to utilize an automated robocall machine, use common names, fake IRS badge numbers and may even know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security number.
“These impersonators can sound authentic, even spoofing caller ID technology to make it look like the call is coming from the IRS office in Washington, D.C.,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Arkansans need to remain diligent in protecting themselves from these scams. If money is actually owed to the IRS, the agency will first communicate the information in writing, and the IRS will never ask for personal or financial information through an unsolicited phone call or email.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following list of actions the IRS will not take, in hopes that Arkansans can spot this scam ahead of time. The IRS will not:
- Call to demand immediate payment.
- Demand payment and not allow an appeal of the amount owed.
- Require taxes be paid in a certain way. For instance, require payment with a prepaid debit card.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
- Threaten to bring in police or other agencies to make an arrest for unpaid taxes.
The IRS strongly recommends Arkansans who receive these threatening calls not give out any personal information and hang up immediately, contact the TIGTA at (800) 366-4484 to report the call and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The agency also requests that any scam emails be forwarded to email@example.com.
The IRS encourages Arkansans with any questions about owed taxes to contact their office directly at (800) 829-1040.
Scammers Target Utility RatepayersWed, Feb 10, 2016
Some Arkansas homeowners and small business owners are receiving phone calls threatening to shut off utility services due to an unpaid bill, but these calls are likely another way for scam artists to take money from hard-working Arkansans.
Utility companies across the State are reporting con artists posing as utility company employees and reaching out to consumers over the phone. These scammers attempt to convince unsuspecting Arkansans that the company has not received payment, and if the consumer does not pay the outstanding balance right away, the utility will be shut off.
Of course the person on the other end of the phone is not associated with any utility company, and the consumer will lose his or her money if they fall victim by wiring money or submitting a prepaid debit card.
Many will even take advantage of evolving technology and use spoofing to make a caller ID display the name of the utility company the scam artist is claiming to represent. Be cautious of unsolicited calls and consider hanging up and finding the company’s phone number from an independent source and calling them to confirm any outstanding balance.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released today’s consumer alert to educate Arkansans about this scam.
“It is outrageous how these scammers are always looking for new ways to trick consumers out of their hard-earned money,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Think twice before deciding to turn over personal or financial information to anyone over the phone, especially if the call is unsolicited. All consumers should be skeptical if the caller requests immediate payment through nontraditional channels, like prepaid debit cards or wire transfers.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to ensure payment is sent to the utility company safely, securely and timely:
- Add your utility payment due date on your calendar when you receive the bill.
- Drop off the payment at the utility office or an authorized payment location.
- Pay online on the utility company’s website with a credit card or call the company directly.
- Consider participating in an automated draft system, if it is offered.
- Mail the payment to the company directly.
Some utility companies are making adjustments to how they conduct business because of this scam and are no longer accepting payments during courtesy calls to avoid confusion.
If you have been contacted by one of these scammers, notify the utility company. If you fall victim to one of these phone calls, file a complaint with the Attorney General.
Tax Refund Fraud on the RiseWed, Feb 3, 2016
The Federal Trade Commission reports a 47 percent spike in identity thefts in 2015, with the biggest contributor being tax refund fraud.
Tax refund fraud occurs when a Social Security number is stolen and used to file a tax return and the resulting refund is claimed by the thief. Unfortunately, many people are unaware that this fraud has occurred until they attempt to file their own taxes and discover that a return has already been filed using their Social Security number.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to educate Arkansans about this type of fraud and ways to protect financial information.
“Tax refund fraud is one more way scam artists line their own pockets with our money,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “But with the gigantic spike in tax-related identity theft in 2015, it is more important for Arkansans to be cautious with personal financial information. Arkansans must also remember that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following steps to take if you fall victim to tax refund fraud:
- File a fraud alert with one of the three national credit bureaus. The selected credit bureau is required to contact the other two bureaus, which will result in a fraud alert with all three bureaus. Once a fraud alert has been placed, if an application for credit is filed in your name and the prospective creditor checks your credit report, the prospective creditor will be alerted to the possibility of identity theft.
- File an identity theft report with a local law enforcement agency.
- Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Contact the company involved to dispute fraudulent transactions or accounts. Ask the company whether a fraud affidavit is required.
- File an identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or call (877) IDTHEFT (438-4338).
- Consider placing a security freeze on your credit report. A security freeze is designed to restrict access to your credit report and help prevent additional instances of identity theft.
- Consider requesting an Identity Theft Passport provided by the Attorney General’s office.
- Respond immediately to any IRS notification.
- Continue to pay taxes and file tax returns, even if it must be done by paper.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Rutledge encourages Arkansans to remember that not all data breaches result in tax-related identity theft. But if your Social Security number has been compromised and the IRS has alerted you to duplicate returns filed under your Social Security, you should immediately complete and submit the IRS’s Identity Theft Affidavit.
For more information on identity theft, to apply for an ID Theft Passport or other consumer related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General's office at (800) 482-8982.
Digging Out From the SnowWed, Jan 27, 2016
The Natural State has mostly avoided the winter weather, until the most recent storm hit bringing nearly 7 inches of snow in parts of Arkansas. Both snow and ice can cause property damage to homes, businesses, vehicles, trees and other property, and clean-up efforts may require some Arkansans to seek assistance from contractors or repairmen.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released today’s consumer alert to encourage Arkansans to use caution as they enter into contracts with people and companies to make repairs.
“Most Arkansans are ready to help where they can as communities recover from winter weather,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “But too often, unscrupulous contractors try to turn a hefty profit on clean-up and repair efforts. It is important for Arkansans to know their rights to keep a bad situation from turning worse by being taken advantage of by an illegitimate business or shady contractor.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to consider when entering into a contract to avoid getting scammed:
- Comparison shop by getting at least three quotes from different companies. Avoid “drive-by” offers from door-to-door solicitors who use high-pressure sales tactics to secure debris-removal or repair jobs. A reputable contractor or professional will never try to pressure you to obtain your business.
- Deal with reputable firms. Do not do business without getting the company’s background information. Get recommendations from friends and family and ask the business for references. Consider contacting the Arkansas Contractor’s Licensing Board to verify that the contractor is licensed and has not had any complaints filed against it.
- Put the contract and all details in writing. A contract should indicate exactly what is to be done, the quality of materials to be used and an expected completion date. The contract should always include details about the price, payment schedule and any required financing.
- Do not pay for the work up front. The Attorney General recommends a payment plan that involves paying a third in advance, a third while the work is ongoing and a third at the end of the job. Consumers should always be able to inspect the completed work before final payment.
- For any payment that requires funds from an insurance carrier, the consumer should deal with the insurance carrier directly, rather than authorizing the contractor to negotiate with the insurance provider.
- Make sure all warranties and guarantees are in writing.
For more information about tips for home repairs and other consumer-related issues, call the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.
Military Tax ProtectionsWed, Jan 20, 2016
Active duty U.S. military service members and their families are entitled to some additional protections during tax season under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
A service member’s property cannot be seized or sold to pay off unpaid, back taxes that come due and remain unpaid before or during a period of military service, except by court order. The government entity will notify the service member in writing before the potential seizure of property.
A court order allowing the sale of the service member’s property will only be issued if the court finds that the service member’s military service does not materially affect his or her ability to pay the unpaid tax. A court may stay proceedings to enforce the collection of a tax for the sale of property that runs for the duration of the service member’s military service and up to 180 days after his or her release from military service.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued today’s consumer alert to educate military families across Arkansas about this safeguard when they are facing the insecurity of deployment or active duty as tax season approaches.
“The brave men and women who fight for our freedoms deserve special consideration, especially while on active duty,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Military service can cause financial and emotional stress on families, but the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act was enacted to provide some relief. It is important that we all remember their sacrifices and do what we can to help these heroic families.”
Attorney General Rutledge released information on the additional SCRA tax provisions below to remind active-duty military service members and their families of protections available to them this tax season:
- State tax relief: The SCRA provides that a nonresident soldier's military income and personal property are not subject to State taxation if the soldier is present in the State only due to military orders. For example, if your State of legal residence is Arkansas and the military sends you to Colorado, you will not have to pay Colorado’s State income tax on military earnings. However, income taxes may be charged on any non-military income earned.
- Tax rates: The SCRA prevents states from using the income earned by a service member in determining a spouse’s tax rate when they do not maintain their permanent legal residence in that State.
- Military spouses residency relief: This provision to the SCRA has been added to extend similar tax protections to military spouses who meet certain qualifying factors such as accompanying the service member to a duty station State to comply with military orders. The spouse must also be in the duty station State solely to be with the service member, and the spouse’s home State is the same as the service member. If these requirements are met, the income earned by the non-military spouse while in the duty station State is not subject to taxation in that State.
- Tax deferment: If a service member’s inability to pay their taxes was caused by their military service, service members can defer owed taxes for up to 180 days after release from service.
The IRS provides a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which offers free tax help to military service members. Contact the nearest Armed Forces Legal Assistance Program office if you suspect SCRA rights were violated.
Arkansas military service members, veterans and families should file consumer complaints with the Attorney General’s office on ArkansasAG.gov or by calling (800) 482-8982.