File Your Taxes Before Identity Thieves Do

Elisabeth Leamy, ABC NEWS Consumer Correspondent reports:

Tax day is a week away and I hope you’ve already filed, because if you haven’t, it’s quite possible con artists have filed FOR you, using your Social Security number to claim refunds for themselves. Tax-related identity theft has doubled over the past two years and now makes up the single largest category of the crime. In 2009, only 12 percent of identity theft was related to taxes. Now tax identity theft makes up 24 percent of all ID theft crimes reported to the Federal Trade Commission. Crooks have found that Uncle Sam is a pretty easy target and they can scoop up tax refunds using YOUR good name.

Here’s the ugly part: if a crook files a tax return using your name and SSN before you file your own return, you’ll be stuck having to prove YOU really are yourself and THEY really are the criminals. There’s also another twist in which criminals use other people’s SSNs when they get jobs. The income from that job then shows up as yours, and when you don’t account for it on your tax return, the IRS may come after you. The third twist is when crooks steal the SSN of a child or elderly dependent of yours, and then you have to prove that person really belongs on your tax return. Not only will your refund be delayed, it’s possible you may end up spending money to clear your name.

Read the entire story.

If your identity is ever stolen, hiring an experienced attorney may be the quickest route to recovering your good name.   The Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can help with a referral to an attorney who specifically handles identity theft issues.  Call 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.

Debt Collectors Profiting From Student Loan Crisis

John Hechinger, writer for Bloomberg Businessweek reported on March 26, 2012:

With $67 billion of student loans in default, the Education Department is turning to an army of private debt-collection companies to put the squeeze on borrowers. Working on commissions that totaled about $1 billion last year, these government contractors face growing complaints that they are violating federal laws by insisting on stiff payments, even when borrowers’ incomes make them eligible for leniency.

Education Department contracts — featuring commissions of as much as 20 percent of recoveries — encourage collectors to insist on high payments. Former debt collectors said they worked in a “boiler-room” environment, where they could earn bonuses of thousands of dollars a month, restaurant gift cards and even trips to foreign resorts if they collected enough from borrowers.

The article goes on to describe the specific federal laws that debt collectors must abide by.

Federal-aid law requires collectors to offer “reasonable and affordable” payments, so debtors can “rehabilitate” their loans, repairing their credit and making good on what they owe taxpayers.

The law mandates no minimum payment for a borrower to enter a rehabilitation program, and collection companies may take borrowers’ finances into account. The fair debt act forbids collectors from making “any false, deceptive or misleading representation.”

Insisting that cash-strapped borrowers make minimum payments and then failing to disclose lower-cost options violates both federal-aid and fair debt-collection laws, according to Deanne Loonin, an attorney with the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center.

Read the entire story.

If you are struggling with your student loan debt, check out the National Consumer Law Center’s  Student Loan Borrower Assistance website.

Some student loan issues may need legal intervention.  The Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can refer you to an attorney who handles student loan and/or debt collection issues.  Call 603-229-0002 or request and online referral.