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Archive | February, 2014

How to extend the life of your car or truck

Following your manufacturer’s recommendations can help you extend the life of your vehicle.

Following your manufacturer’s recommendations can help you extend the life of your vehicle.

(StatePoint) Your vehicle is one of your biggest investments, so taking care of your car or truck just makes good sense.

While regular wear and tear cannot be avoided over time, there are some important steps you can take to keep your vehicle on the road longer:

Wash Your Car

Regularly washing your car may keep you riding in style, but a clean vehicle is not just for appearances.

Keeping your car or truck clean and free of debris and detrimental road salt will prevent rusting and costly repairs down the line.

Oil Changes and Filters

To protect your engine, follow your manufacturer’s recommended oil change intervals. Instead of conventional oil, consider using high performance synthetic motor oil designed to reduce wear, heat and fuel consumption.

Just like motor oil, not all oil filters are of the same quality — filters can be classified as “economy,” “better,” and “best. Since the oil filter prevents contaminants from circulating through the system and causing damage, opting for a premium oil filter will extend the life of your vehicle.

For example, Royal Purple oil filters use micro-glass filter technology. Advanced micro-glass oil filters are designed to extend the life of vehicles and equipment. In addition to superior filtration media, the other internal and structural components are of higher quality materials, making for easier installation and removal as they are much less prone to crush while installing or removing.

More information on motor oil and filters can be found at www.RoyalPurpleConsumer.com.

Smoother Driving

The way you drive can affect your vehicle’s performance and longevity. Take care to accelerate and decelerate smoothly. Not only will you increase your fuel economy, but you’ll extend the life of your brake pads.

Avoid feel-good driving maneuvers like revving the engine and try not to drive on a nearly empty gas tank. Neither of these behaviors is good for your engine, and could result in costly repairs.

By following a maintenance routine and practicing good driving habits, you can extend the life of your vehicle well after driving it off the lot.

 

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New laws emerge as technology impacts cars and driving

CAR-Technology(BPT) – Have you ever felt that new technologies, from smartphones to Internet apps, are moving so fast that it’s hard to keep up?

You’re not alone. Many Americans feel overwhelmed by new technology. One-third of adults in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and China said they felt overwhelmed by technology in a 2011 study conducted by the University of Cambridge.

As it relates to public policy, lawmakers may also be feeling overwhelmed as they try to keep up with researching, writing and passing legislation to regulate new technologies to maintain public safety or prevent the invasion of privacy. According to the WestlawNext, the leading online legal research service, more than 100,000 new or changed statutes, 160,000 new or modified regulations and 285,000 new judicial opinions were incorporated into the U.S. legal system in 2013.

“New technology can create a debate,” says Rachel Utter, manager of Legal Editorial Operations at Thomson Reuters. “As regulators come to understand the impact of a new technology on our day-to-day lives, they may be challenged with balancing the benefits of a new technology with public safety concerns. In some cases, such as fuel mileage mandates, government regulation can force the development of new technology, such as hybrid engines and electric cars.”

Among the new wave of enacted or proposed legislation involving technology and cars conducted via WestlawNext through Jan. 30, some of the most prominent include:

* Texting and driving – Forty-one states and the District of Columbia ban texting with smartphones and cellphones for all drivers – and all but four have primary enforcement, allowing law enforcement in those four states to only ticket someone for texting while driving if they were stopped for another reason such as speeding.

* Wearable technology – With the recent introduction of Google Glass and other evolving wearable technology such as the smart watches and smart contact lenses, lawmakers may need to develop new laws about the use of these technologies while a person operates a motor vehicle. Ten states – Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming – have enacted or have proposed legislation prohibiting the use of wearable computers with a head-mounted display while driving. In October 2013, a California woman may have been the first person in the United States to receive a citation for operating a motor vehicle while wearing Google Glass. The citation was later thrown out of court.

* Black boxes – Nearly all recently manufactured U.S. cars and trucks are equipped with an Event Data Recorder (EDR), also known as a black box. In September 2014, this piece of computing technology will become mandatory in all new U.S. vehicles. The EDR monitors a vehicle’s electrical systems, which includes speed, braking, driving patterns and even location at any given time. A number of legal questions have emerged about black boxes, such as: “Who owns the data that a vehicle’s black box is gathering? If a car owner is involved in a crash, do police and insurance companies have the right to review the data in the vehicle’s EDR? Can marketers buy the data to deliver ads through the vehicle’s entertainment system?” These questions are at the heart of a recent bill introduced by senators John Hoeven (R-ND) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

* Driverless cars – Imagine a day when people travel by car, but don’t actually drive the car. They simply type in their destination and go. Several states have passed laws allowing automated cars. California, Florida, Nevada and the District of Columbia allow autonomous vehicles to be driven on public roads. Washington D.C. may have the least restrictive provisions: the vehicle must have a manual override feature, a driver must be in the control seat with the ability to take over operation of the vehicle, and the vehicle must be capable of operating in compliance with the District’s traffic and motor vehicle laws.

“Technology, whether implemented into how automobiles are designed or operated, has made significant contributions in making vehicles safer,” says Utter. “And as new technology is integrated, there will be questions, concerns and debate driving new regulation and legislation.”

To learn more about WestlawNext, visit www.thomsonreuters.com.

 

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Did you know: Probiotics can improve more than just stomach health

PHOTO SOURCE: (c) Monticello - Shutterstock

PHOTO SOURCE: (c) Monticello – Shutterstock

 

(StatePoint) If you’re familiar with probiotics, you probably know that these “good bacteria,” found in such foods as yogurt and pickles, are associated with good digestive health.  But the health benefits of probiotics are more extensive than just improving digestion. Experts now say that paying attention to your probiotic intake, including the use of probiotic supplements, can potentially help you achieve better health — from developing a stronger immune system to reducing stress.

“Probiotics have formed a vital part of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern diets for thousands of years and are credited, in part, for the remarkably low rates of chronic, age-related diseases that prevail in those regions,” says Michael A. Smith, M.D., senior health scientist with Life Extension in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and host of Healthy Talk on www.RadioMD.com.

Gut Health

The human gastrointestinal system has the all-important job of digesting food and absorbing nutrients. If it fails at this, you’ll quickly become malnourished. These tasks are managed mostly by bacteria and not by your own body. Foods and supplements that replenish important bacteria are called probiotics.

Additionally, probiotics are said to ease inflammation by decreasing production of inflammatory proteins called cytokines.

Immunity

Your gut system is exposed to lots of dangerous bacteria, molds and fungi. A vast majority of your immune defenses are right there in the gut. Probiotics can help keep these critical defenses functioning properly.

Stress Management

Have you ever experienced “butterflies” in your stomach? This sensation isn’t just “in your head.” The gut contains over 100 million neurons. One particular nerve, the vagus nerve, communicates directly with your brain. When you’re stressed, your digestive system suffers as a result. But new research shows that probiotics can potentially alleviate these symptoms.

Though more research is needed in this area, scientists are uncovering new ways that your mind is connected to your gut.

Reaping the Benefits

Start by incorporating more probiotics into your diet. Sources include yogurt, sour pickles, certain soft cheeses and miso soup. While these foods do supply a small dose of beneficial bacteria, Smith says that if you’re not already doing so, you should consider supplementing your diet with probiotic supplements or foods with added probiotics.

“Thanks to new research and the emerging field of pharmabiotics, you can increase your intake with a broad spectrum of probiotic products, as well” says Smith.

Remember, not all probiotics are created equal — there are many strains and preparations on the market. One of the complications many commercial probiotics face is their inability to overcome hurdles in the digestive tract before hitting their target area, which can limit their beneficial effect. Additionally, some supplements only provide one type of bacteria. It’s important to get clinically effective strains in whatever product you choose. To learn more, visit www.Lef.org/FlorAssist or call toll-free, 1-855-870-0682.

An improper balance of good-to-bad bacteria can wreak havoc throughout the body. But by being proactive about probiotics, you can better achieve optimal health.

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Fifth Flu-Related Death Reported in Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS – The Kent County Health Department received notification today of a fifth flu-related death: a man from Kent County over the age of 50. The initial test confirms the man was suffering from Influenza A/H1N1, the predominant strain people have been catching this season. The health department has no medical history on the man, so it is unclear if there were any known underlying medical conditions in this case.

“Health care providers report a leveling-off of cases of flu-like illness in recent weeks, but we still need to practice prevention,” says Adam London, Administrative Health Officer for the Kent County Health Department.

“In some years, we see flu season peaks as late as March. If you are suffering from the symptoms, consider seeking help from a health care provider, and stay home until you recover.” Kent County had five known flurelated deaths in the 2009-2010 season, the initial year that the H1N1 strain was circulating. There were no deaths reported in Kent County in 2012-2013.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Flu viruses can spread when people with flu cough, sneeze, or even talk. Someone might also get flu by touching a surface or object (like a phone) that has flu virus on it, and then touching their own mouth, eyes, or nose. Signs and symptoms can include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue (very tired), vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults). If you think you have the flu, try to limit spreading the illness. Do not go to school or work until you recover.

The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone over 6 months of age. The influenza vaccine this year is highly effective protection against the flu, including H1N1. It takes 10 – 14 days after receiving the vaccination for a person to develop immunity. This is why you often hear people wrongly claim that they got the flu from the flu shot. Multiple studies have confirmed that the flu vaccine does not cause influenza. People can, however, become ill from exposure to contagious people during those 10 – 14 days before their immunity develops.

Some children ages 6 months to 2 years old may require two doses of vaccine (parents should check with a health care provider for details).

The Kent County Health Department seasonal influenza program provides vaccinations for all individuals six months of age and older. Vaccines start at $25 for injection, and $33 for FluMist nasal spray. To make an appointment at any of our five clinic locations, call (616) 632-7200. You can also schedule online at www.stickittotheflu.com. Flu information is also available on our information only line at (616) 742-4FLU (358).

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IRS Releases the “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams for 2014; Identity Theft, Phone Scams Lead List

IR-2014-16, Feb. 19, 2014

 

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today issued its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams, reminding taxpayers to use caution during tax season to protect themselves against a wide range of schemes ranging from identity theft to return preparer fraud.

The Dirty Dozen listing, compiled by the IRS each year, lists a variety of common scams taxpayers can encounter at any point during the year. But many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns.

“Taxpayers should be on the lookout for tax scams using the IRS name,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “These schemes jump every year at tax time. Scams can be sophisticated and take many different forms. We urge people to protect themselves and use caution when viewing e-mails, receiving telephone calls or getting advice on tax issues.”

Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

The following are the Dirty Dozen tax scams for 2014:

Identity Theft

Tax fraud through the use of identity theft tops this year’s Dirty Dozen list. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information, such as your name, Social Security number (SSN) or other identifying information, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. In many cases, an identity thief uses a legitimate taxpayer’s identity to fraudulently file a tax return and claim a refund.

The agency’s work on identity theft and refund fraud continues to grow, touching nearly every part of the organization. For the 2014 filing season, the IRS has expanded these efforts to better protect taxpayers and help victims.

The IRS has a special section on IRS.gov dedicated to identity theft issues, including YouTube videos, tips for taxpayers and an assistance guide. For victims, the information includes how to contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit. For other taxpayers, there are tips on how taxpayers can protect themselves against identity theft.

Taxpayers who believe 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. Taxpayers can call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. More information can be found on the special identity protection page.

Pervasive Telephone Scams

The IRS has seen a recent increase in local phone scams across the country, with callers pretending to be from the IRS in hopes of stealing money or identities from victims.

These phone scams include many variations, ranging from instances from where callers say the victims owe money or are entitled to a huge refund. Some calls can threaten arrest and threaten a driver’s license revocation. Sometimes these calls are paired with follow-up calls from people saying they are from the local police department or the state motor vehicle department.

Characteristics of these scams can include:

• Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.

• Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security Number.

• Scammers “spoof” or imitate the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.

• Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.

• Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.

After threatening victims with jail time or a 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.

In another variation, one sophisticated phone scam has targeted taxpayers, including recent immigrants, throughout the country. Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do: If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue – if there really is such an issue.

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 800-366-4484.

If you’ve been targeted by these scams, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.

Phishing

Phishing is a scam typically carried out with the help of unsolicited email or a fake website that poses as a legitimate site to lure in potential victims and prompt them to provide valuable personal and financial information. Armed with this information, a criminal can commit identity theft or financial theft.

If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov.

It is important to keep in mind the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS has information online that can help you protect yourself from email scams.

False Promises of “Free Money” from Inflated Refunds

Scam artists routinely pose as tax preparers during tax time, luring victims in by promising large federal tax refunds or refunds that people never dreamed they were due in the first place.

Scam artists use flyers, advertisements, phony store fronts and even word of mouth to throw out a wide net for victims. They may even spread the word through community groups or churches where trust is high. Scammers prey on people who do not have a filing requirement, such as low-income individuals or the elderly. They also prey on non-English speakers, who may or may not have a filing requirement.

Scammers build false hope by duping people into making claims for fictitious rebates, benefits or tax credits. They charge good money for very bad advice. Or worse, they file a false return in a person’s name and that person never knows that a refund was paid.

Scam artists also victimize people with a filing requirement and due a refund by promising inflated refunds based on fictitious Social Security benefits and false claims for education credits, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), or the American Opportunity Tax Credit, among others.

The IRS sometimes hears about scams from victims complaining about losing their federal benefits, such as Social Security benefits, certain veteran’s benefits or low-income housing benefits. The loss of benefits was the result of false claims being filed with the IRS that provided false income amounts.

While honest tax preparers provide their customers a copy of the tax return they’ve prepared, victims of scam frequently are not given a copy of what was filed. Victims also report that the fraudulent refund is deposited into the scammer’s bank account. The scammers deduct a large “fee” before cutting a check to the victim, a practice not used by legitimate tax preparers.

The IRS reminds all taxpayers that they are legally responsible for what’s on their returns even if it was prepared by someone else. Taxpayers who buy into such schemes can end up being penalized for filing false claims or receiving fraudulent refunds.

Taxpayers should take care when choosing an individual or firm to prepare their taxes. Honest return preparers generally: ask for proof of income and eligibility for credits and deductions; sign returns as the preparer; enter their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN); provide the taxpayer a copy of the return.

Beware: Intentional mistakes of this kind can result in a $5,000 penalty.

Return Preparer Fraud

About 60 percent of taxpayers will use tax professionals this year to prepare their tax returns. Most return preparers provide honest service to their clients. But, some unscrupulous preparers prey on unsuspecting taxpayers, and the result can be refund fraud or identity theft.

It is important to choose carefully when hiring an individual or firm to prepare your return. This year, the IRS wants to remind all taxpayers that they should use only preparers who sign the returns they prepare and enter their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Numbers (PTINs).

The IRS also has a web page to assist taxpayers. For tips about choosing a preparer, details on preparer qualifications and information on how and when to make a complaint, view IRS Fact Sheet 2014-5, IRS Offers Advice on How to Choose a Tax Preparer.

Remember: Taxpayers are legally responsible for what’s on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else. Make sure the preparer you hire is up to the task.

IRS.gov has general information on reporting tax fraud. More specifically, you report abusive tax preparers to the IRS on Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. Download Form 14157 and fill it out or order by mail at 800-TAX FORM (800-829-3676). The form includes a return address.

Hiding Income Offshore

Over the years, numerous individuals have been identified as evading U.S. taxes by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or nominee entities and then using debit cards, credit cards or wire transfers to access the funds. Others have employed foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or insurance plans for the same purpose.

The IRS uses information gained from its investigations to pursue taxpayers with undeclared accounts, as well as the banks and bankers suspected of helping clients hide their assets overseas. The IRS works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to prosecute tax evasion cases.

While there are legitimate reasons for maintaining financial accounts abroad, there are reporting requirements that need to be fulfilled. U.S. taxpayers who maintain such accounts and who do not comply with reporting requirements are breaking the law and risk significant penalties and fines, as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution.

Since 2009, tens of thousands of individuals have come forward voluntarily to disclose their foreign financial accounts, taking advantage of special opportunities to comply with the U.S. tax system and resolve their tax obligations. And, with new foreign account reporting requirements being phased in over the next few years, hiding income offshore is increasingly more difficult.

At the beginning of 2012, the IRS reopened the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) following continued strong interest from taxpayers and tax practitioners after the closure of the 2011 and 2009 programs. The IRS works on a wide range of international tax issues with DOJ to pursue criminal prosecution of international tax evasion. This program will be open for an indefinite period until otherwise announced.

The IRS has collected billions of dollars in back taxes, interest and penalties so far from people who participated in offshore voluntary disclosure programs since 2009. It is in the best long-term interest of taxpayers to come forward, catch up on their filing requirements and pay their fair share.

Impersonation of Charitable Organizations

Another long-standing type of abuse or fraud is scams that occur in the wake of significant natural disasters.

Following major disasters, it’s common for scam artists to impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers. Scam artists can use a variety of tactics. Some scammers operating bogus charities may contact people by telephone or email to solicit money or financial information. They may even directly contact disaster victims and claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help the victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds.

They may attempt to get personal financial information or Social Security numbers that can be used to steal the victims’ identities or financial resources. Bogus websites may solicit funds for disaster victims. The IRS cautions both victims of natural disasters and people wishing to make charitable donations to avoid scam artists by following these tips:

• To help disaster victims, donate to recognized charities.

• Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. IRS.gov has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, which allows people to find legitimate, qualified charities to which donations may be taxdeductible.

• Don’t give out personal financial information, such as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords, to anyone who solicits a contribution from you. Scam artists may use this information to steal your identity and money.

• Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.

Call the IRS toll-free disaster assistance telephone number (866-562-5227) if you are a disaster victim with specific questions about tax relief or disaster related tax issues.

False Income, Expenses or Exemptions

Another scam involves inflating or including income on a tax return that was never earned, either as wages or as self-employment income in order to maximize refundable credits. Claiming income you did not earn or expenses you did not pay in order to secure larger refundable credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit could have serious repercussions. This could result in repaying the erroneous refunds, including interest and penalties, and in some cases, even prosecution.

Additionally, some taxpayers are filing excessive claims for the fuel tax credit. Farmers and other taxpayers who use fuel for off-highway business purposes may be eligible for the fuel tax credit. But other individuals have claimed the tax credit although they were not eligible. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim and can result in a penalty of $5,000.

Frivolous Arguments

Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. The IRS has a list of frivolous tax arguments that taxpayers should avoid. These arguments are wrong and have been thrown out of court. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law or disregard their responsibility to pay taxes.

Those who promote or adopt frivolous positions risk a variety of penalties. For example, taxpayers could be responsible for an accuracy-related penalty, a civil fraud penalty, an erroneous refund claim penalty, or a failure to file penalty. The Tax Court may also impose a penalty against taxpayers who make frivolous arguments in court.

Taxpayers who rely on frivolous arguments and schemes may also face criminal prosecution for attempting to evade or defeat tax. Similarly, taxpayers may be convicted of a felony for willfully making and signing under penalties of perjury any return, statement, or other document that the person does not believe to be true and correct as to every material matter. Persons who promote frivolous arguments and those who assist taxpayers in claiming tax benefits based on frivolous arguments may be prosecuted for a criminal felony.

Falsely Claiming Zero Wages or Using False Form 1099

Filing a phony information return is an illegal way to lower the amount of taxes an individual owes. Typically, a Form 4852 (Substitute Form W-2) or a “corrected” Form 1099 is used as a way to improperly reduce taxable income to zero. The taxpayer may also submit a statement rebutting wages and taxes reported by a payer to the IRS.

Sometimes, fraudsters even include an explanation on their Form 4852 that cites statutory language on the definition of wages or may include some reference to a paying company that refuses to issue a corrected Form W-2 for fear of IRS retaliation. Taxpayers should resist any temptation to participate in any variations of this scheme. Filing this type of return may result in a $5,000 penalty.

Some people also attempt fraud using false Form 1099 refund claims. In some cases, individuals have made refund claims based on the bogus theory that the federal government maintains secret accounts for U.S. citizens and that taxpayers can gain access to the accounts by issuing 1099-OID forms to the IRS. In this ongoing scam, the perpetrator files a fake information return, such as a Form 1099 Original Issue Discount (OID), to justify a false refund claim on a corresponding tax return.

Don’t fall prey to people who encourage you to claim deductions or credits to which you are not entitled or willingly allow others to use your information to file false returns. If you are a party to such schemes, you could be liable for financial penalties or even face criminal prosecution.

Abusive Tax Structures

Abusive tax schemes have evolved from simple structuring of abusive domestic and foreign trust arrangements into sophisticated strategies that take advantage of the financial secrecy laws of some foreign jurisdictions and the availability of credit/debit cards issued from offshore financial institutions.

IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) has developed a nationally coordinated program to combat these abusive tax schemes. CI’s primary focus is on the identification and investigation of the tax scheme promoters as well as those who play a substantial or integral role in facilitating, aiding, assisting, or furthering the abusive tax scheme (e.g., accountants, lawyers). Secondarily, but equally important, is the investigation of investors who knowingly participate in abusive tax schemes.

What is an abusive scheme? The Abusive Tax Schemes program encompasses violations of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) and related statutes where multiple flow-through entities are used as an integral part of the taxpayer’s scheme to evade taxes. These schemes are characterized by the use of Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs), International Business Companies (IBCs), foreign financial accounts, offshore credit/debit cards and other similar instruments. The schemes are usually complex involving multi-layer transactions for the purpose of concealing the true nature and ownership of the taxable income and/or assets.

Form over substance are the most important words to remember before buying into any arrangements that promise to “eliminate” or “substantially reduce” your tax liability. The promoters of abusive tax schemes often employ financial instruments in their schemes. However, the instruments are used for improper purposes including the facilitation of tax evasion.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to report unlawful tax evasion. Where Do You Report Suspected Tax Fraud Activity?

Misuse of Trusts

Trusts also commonly show up in abusive tax structures. They are highlighted here because unscrupulous promoters continue to urge taxpayers to transfer large amounts of assets into trusts. These assets include not only cash and investments, but also successful on-going businesses. There are legitimate uses of trusts in tax and estate planning, but the IRS commonly sees highly questionable transactions. These transactions promise reduced taxable income, inflated deductions for personal expenses, the reduction or elimination of self-employment taxes and reduced estate or gift transfer taxes. These transactions commonly arise when taxpayers are transferring wealth from one generation to another. Questionable trusts rarely deliver the tax benefits promised and are used primarily as a means of avoiding income tax liability and hiding assets from creditors, including the IRS.

IRS personnel continue to see an increase in the improper use of private annuity trusts and foreign trusts to shift income and deduct personal expenses, as well as to avoid estate transfer taxes. As with other arrangements, taxpayers should seek the advice of a trusted professional before entering a trust arrangement.

The IRS reminds taxpayers that tax scams can take many forms beyond the “Dirty Dozen,” and people should be on the lookout for many other schemes. More information on tax scams is available at IRS.gov.

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Common Grackle may no longer be common

 Photo by Phil Hauck.

Photo by Phil Hauck.

Prior to European settlement the Common Grackle was likely not common. It wasn’t until settlers started clearing land for agricultural uses that the species start expanding, and rapidly. By 1974, the species global population had reached 190 million individuals (National Audubon).

The Common Grackle is part of the blackbird family and if you live in an urban area chances are you have seen one or an entire flock. This grackle looks black from a distance but up close they display a glossy purple head, a bronzy-iridescent body and bright golden eyes. In Michigan, they prefer larger cities including Detroit, Lansing, Jackson, Grand Rapids, Gaylord, Clare and Sault Ste. Marie. The species is most often found in open to partially open areas with scattered trees, usually along forest edges. The Common Grackle particularly prefers human-altered habitats.

Although once widespread, the species has witnessed a 61 percent decline in population numbers since 1974, making the current global population roughly 73 million individuals (National Audubon). In Michigan, the decline is not as drastic, with a 2.5 percent decrease annually from 1988 to 2008 (Michigan Breeding Bird Atlas I & II). Partners in Flight estimates that in the state the Common Grackle population is around 1.6 million individuals, making it one of the more common birds in Michigan.

Its commonality along with its current population decline has landed the Common Grackle on National Audubon’s list of “Top 20 Common Birds in Decline”. The species decline is due to two different elements.

Common Grackles often roost in large numbers around agricultural food sources such as corn, soybeans and cherries, which has caused the species to be considered an agricultural pest allowing it to be legal to eliminate the bird in some areas. According to the Michigan Breeding Bird Atlas the depredation order, “allows the control of Common Grackles in agricultural situations when found committing or about to commit depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner as to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance.” (Depredation 2008). When grackles roost at the same site for several consecutive years the site has a chance of harboring the fungus, Histoplasma capsulatum, which can be fatal in humans because it causes histoplasmosis, an infection of the lungs.

The second reason for the population decline is due to the bird’s shrinking habitat. In the late 1800’s and into the 1900’s land was being cleared at an astonishing pace, opening up an abundance of habitat for the grackle. Now with reforestation in full swing, the Common Grackle is witnessing a large, quick habitat loss.

To help the Common Grackle improve its population numbers check into the federal, state and local regulations on agricultural pests. If you live in an area with large numbers of blackbirds investigate what the protocol is regarding blackbird control and then contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or your state wildlife office; if permits have been issued report the information to the stateofthebirds@audubon.org.

Additionally, participating in bird surveys such as the Christmas Bird Count, Great Backyard Bird Count and the North American Breeding Bird Survey will help scientist get a better idea of the species overall population. Lastly, if you submit checklists to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s citizen scientist project eBird, make sure to include all birds you observe, even the species you think are common, you never know when they will be in decline.

 

 

 

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Snowmobile Violations – Leaving the scene of a property damage accident.

OUT-Snowmobile-Conservation-officer-logoby Sgt. John Jurcich

 

The Department of Natural Resources, Law Enforcement Division, continues to seek information related to a hit and run snowmobile crash which killed one dog and seriously injured a second dog along Simonelli Road in Fruitland Township of Muskegon County on the evening of February 16th 2014.

At approximately 7:30 p.m. two Fruitland Township residents were at the end of a driveway while snow was being cleared and mail was being retrieved from a mailbox along this lightly traveled rural road. Two vehicles were visible at the end of the driveway with tractor lights illuminating the road at the time of the incident.  Two Brittany Spaniels, owned by one of the residents, briefly ran into the gravel roadway and were returning to the drive when a lone snowmobile approaching from the north, traveling the center of the roadway at a high rate of speed appeared. The snowmobile continued at high speed striking both dogs within twenty feet of the owner and witness. The suspect vehicle did not slow or brake prior to or after the collision.  One dog died on scene after being thrown 114 feet, and the second dog required emergency care and surgery in Grand Rapids with veterinary bills totaling more than $6,000.

The snowmobile was last observed at the intersection of Simonelli and Lakewood Roads. Conservation Officers and local law enforcement have been working leads related to this incident but continue to seek additional information. Investigators may be seeking a mid to late 1990s, Polaris snowmobile, dark in color, being operated by a lone occupant. This snowmobile may have left the Berry Junction Trail or the City of Whitehall just prior to the incident and may have been returning to Fruitland or the Laketon Township area at the time of the crash.

Snowmobiles in Muskegon County may operate to the extreme right of the “right of way” or plowed portion of the roadway.  Speeds may not exceed those posted or designated to normal vehicular traffic.  Under Michigan Snowmobile and Motor Vehicle Code laws, snowmobiles involved in a crash causing property damage or human injury, must stop at the scene to provide information.

Information may be provided to the DNR Report All Poaching Hotline at 1 800 292-7800 or the Muskegon Silent Observer at 72-Crime.

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Gradual Metamorphosis

by Ranger Steve Mueller

 

As a child I collected butterflies in fallow farm fields near my home.  I recall rearing large numbers of mourning cloaks and tent caterpillars.  The joy of the metamorphosis was miraculous and butterflies were released to “live and be happy”.  When I collected adults, I recall how difficult it was to kill such splendid creatures in my killing jar. Collecting allowed me to study details that were otherwise not possible. More than once I released specimens too near death to ever recover completely.  That may have been improper treatment for those poor individuals but a child has a unique view and understanding of life.

All too rapidly the fallow farm fields became housing developments and that angered and disappointed me.  The loss of habitat was crucial in my development as a lepidopterist.  As a seven year old, I recognized human population expansion was squeezing other life off the planet and by age 19 I decided to limit my own family to no more than two children. I developed understanding and reasons for collecting and studying these wonderful creatures whose presence declined proportionally with development and human population growth.

In addition to observing life histories, my efforts to collect, kill, and classify intensified so I could learn ways to sustain species and life.  I gradually metamorphosed in my understanding for taking the delightful insects from nature. It was essential to study details that help species survive. The research led me to discover distribution of species not known to live in Michigan and Utah. Scientific collecting allowed me to document hundreds of new County records where species were not known to live. Collecting even resulted in the discovery of a new species called the Brilliant Virgin Tiger Moth (Grammia brillians) at my Bryce Canyon National Park research site.

My three-year-old daughter, Jenny Jo, collected with me when young and clearly instructed me to release specimens from the net so they could “live and be happy”.  Thus I saw a new generation of lepidopterist beginning her metamorphosis. I thought her development and collecting efforts might help butterflies “live and be happy”. Now grown, her efforts do not include study of butterflies but she developed a love for life and joy for nature’s biodiversity. She lives conservatively to sustain life on Earth for all species.

Jenny helped me again see the miraculous nature of butterfly existence that a child sees. A three-year-old renewed my efforts to help butterflies “live and be happy” – a thought sometimes difficult for the adult perspective but one we should never lose.

Live a life that conserves nature niches.

Adapted from July 1983 article published in the Lepidopterists’ Society News

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  616-696-1753.

 

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Rotary Life Leadership Conference and Scholarships

 

for Juniors and Seniors

The Cedar Springs Rotary Club is now accepting interest forms to attend a Life Leadership Conference for High School Juniors and Seniors in Tustin, Michigan, June 18-21. The conference fee, along with transportation to and from the conference, is covered by the Cedar Springs Rotary Club. Students learn about leadership styles and identify strengths and weaknesses of those styles. Small group discussions include an understanding of various political, cultural, ethnic, gender, and religious groups. Two $1,000 scholarships will then be awarded based on Interviews, Applications, Presentations and Essays submitted by the students chosen for the conference.

Last years attendees were Dani George, Samantha Lovell, Esther Couturier, Emma Bishop and Katie Tow. Interest Forms are available in the Cedar Springs High School Counselor’s office, CTA Counselor’s office, Independent Bank or White Creek Lumber, with a response deadline of Friday, March 21 at 5:00 p.m.

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Hometown Happenings

Hometown Happenings articles are a community service for non-profit agencies only. Due to popular demand for placement in this section, we can no longer run all articles. Deadline for articles is Monday at 5 p.m. This is not guaranteed space. Articles will run as space allows. Guaranteed placement is $10, certain restrictions may apply. You now can email your Hometown Happenings to happenings@cedarspringspost.com please include name and phone number for any questions we may have.

 

 

Star Gazing at HCNC

Mar. 1: Do you have in interest in Astronomy? This class will help satisfy that desire to know more about the heavens and show you how to see objects in the night. The class covers information about the earth, moon, planets and stars – from making a scale model of our systems to understanding the difference between stars. Instruction is given in viewing the night sky using binoculars and natural sight. Following the workshop, we will go outside to view the stars. Basics will be given on how to use (provided) binoculars to see the planets and stars. Saturday, March 1 from 1 to 9 pm. $5 donation per person, $15/ family of four or more. Howard Chirstensen Nature Center, 16190 Red Pine, Kent City. 616-675-3158. #9

 

Festival of the Sleds

Mar. 1: The West Michigan Snowmobile  Museum and Library is holding a snowmobile show and swap meet on Saturday, March 1st from 10 am to 3 pm at 13969 Francis Way, Cedar Springs. “Festival of the Sleds” will celebrate snowmobiles – old and new, have about 100 snowmobiles on display and enjoy old and new friends. Everyone is welcome. #9

 

Benefit for Clinton Bresnahan and Lynn Marion

Mar. 2: Please come join us at The Harvard Bar for a benefit on Sunday, March 2nd. This benefit is for Clinton Bresnahan and Lynn Marion, who lost everything to a house fire. There will be a spaghetti dinner for $8 a plate, a luck of the draw dart tournament (sign up begins at noon, first tournament around 2 pm), and a bake sale and auction by IMC Motorcycle club. Donations may be dropped off at The Harvard Bar all week, through the day of the benefit,including all donations for the auction. #9

 

Help Promote Literacy

Mar. 3: The Literacy Center of West Michigan has scheduled an information session on Monday, March 3 for prospective volunteer tutors to find out more about the Center and its literacy programs. At the end of the session there will be an opportunity to sign up for tutor training. At least 6,000 adults cannot speak or understand English well. By training people to be tutors, the Center can offer one-on-one reading help to adults in reading or English as a Second Language (ESL). You do not need to speak another language to tutor ESL. Please call us at 616-459-5151(ext. 10) to register. The Center is located at 1120 Monroe Ave. NW, Suite 204, Grand Rapids. #9

There’s a Mouse in the House

Mar. 4: What could be more exciting that a mouse in your house? Celebrate all things “mousy” with stories, crafts, rhymes, fingerplays and puppets. For ages 6 and younger. Tuesday, March 4 at 10:30 am at the Sand Lake/Nelson Township KDL Branch, 88 Eighth St. #9

 

Dinner at the Legion

Mar. 9: American Legion, 80 Main St. Cedar Springs, is hosting a baked chicken dinner on Monday, March 3rd, from 5 – 7 pm. Included will be mashed potatoes & gravy, stuffing veggies, salad, dessert and drinks. The cost is $9 for adults, children (15 and younger) $4.50. Come and enjoy home cooking. Take out is available. 616-696-9160. #9p

 

En Gedi Auction Fundraiser

Mar. 21: “Come Be Refreshed” on Friday, March 21 at the CS High School. Doors open at 6 pm. This is sure to be a fun night for all. A wide variety of items to be auctioned including athletic events, tools, entertaining and dining certificates, lodging, shopping, musical items and much more. This once-a-year fundraiser benefits the after-school youth centers for 6th – 12th graders at Red Hawk and the High School. Delicious appetizers will be served while you carouse the silent auction items. The live auction will feature larger items and begin around 7 pm. Tickets are $10 each and available at Take Two, Alpha Omega Coffee and Games, and Perry’s Place, all located on Main Street or email SueQ@hughes.net. #9-12p

 

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