Archive for December, 2008

The Taxman Cometh
December 17, 2008

Just wanted to let everyone know about an IRS scam that never seems to die. The attachments sent with the e-mail are very official looking forms asking for loads of personal information. The fax number is also a New York area code. This is completely bogus. Here’s the e-mail I received along with the letter….

From: Internal Revenue Service [nonereply@irs.gov]

To: rarnold

Subject: Please see the attachment

Please see the attachment make sure you fill all the columns and send fax to: 1-646-731-6884.

Sir/Madam,

 

 

Our records indicate that you are a non-resident alien. As a result, you are exempted from United States of America Tax reporting and withholdings, on interest paid you on your account and other financial dealing to protect your exemption from tax on your account and other financial benefit in rectifying your exemption status.

 

Therefore, you are to authenticate the following by completing form W-4100B2, and return to us as soon as possible through the fax number: +1-646-731-6884.

                                                                                                                 

If you are a USA Citizen and resident, please complete form W-4100B2 and fax it to us, please indicate “USA Citizen/Resident” on the form and return it to us.

 

When completing form W-4100B2, please follow the steps below

 

1.                   We need you to provide your permanent address if different from the current mailing address on your Form W-4100B2 , you must indicate if a non-USA resident, your country of origin to support your non-resident status (if your bank account or other financial dealing has a USA address for mailing purpose).

 

2.                   If any joint account holder are now USA residents or Citizen, or in any way subject to USA tax reporting laws, Please check the box in this section.

 

3.                   Please complete 1 through 19 and have all account holders, sign and date the form separately and fax it to the   above-mentioned number.

 

Please, complete Form W-4100B2 ‘attached” and return to us within 1 (one) week from the receipt of this letter by faxing it, to enable us update your records immediately if your account or any other financial benefits are not rectified in a timely manner, it will be subject to USA tax reporting and back up withholding (if back up withholding applies, we are required to withhold 30% of the interest paid to you).

 

We appreciate your cooperation in helping us protect your exempt status and also update our records.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

Laura Stevens

IRS .Public Relations.

 

 

 This type of phishing scam has been around since at least 2002, the only thing that changes is the type of form sent with the e-mail. Some other variations include promising recipients tax refunds. In case you are wondering  the IRS does not, has not and will not ask for personal information via e-mail. Plus, the IRS doesn’t even initiate contact with a taxpayer via e-mail. So if this pops up in your inbox just delete it. You can also report these e-mails to phishing@irs.gov.

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Taking A Bite Out Of Dogs
December 17, 2008

Before I launch into this post I want to let you know I have a personal bias on this issue. I have been around dogs my entire life and think they are one of the greatest creatures on this earth. I am a FIRM believer that there is no such thing as a bad dog, only bad owners. I do speak from experience. As a reporter I’ve covered several stories regarding dog maulings and fighting rings. When I was twelve years old my neighbor’s German Shepherd took a chunk out of my thigh while I was helping her hang Christmas lights. Never blamed the dog. However, I did blame my neighbor whose initial reaction was to put my leg over a trash can and pour almost an entire bottle of rubbing alcohol into the wound (maternal instincts apparently waved buh-bye to her long before that incident). It’s also a  good thing Santa was grading on a curve that year because the words that came out of my mouth would have definitely landed me on the naughty list while at the same time making sailors blush. With that written here is the point of this post….

I came across a request to the Texas Attorney General from State Representative Tony Goolsby (Dallas area). In the request Mr. Goolsby asks the Attorney General’s Office whether counties or municipalities have the authority to enact laws regarding specific breeds of dogs. In the request Mr. Goolsby specifically mentions Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers. Mr. Goolsby mentions that numerous municipalities and some counties have expressed a “desire” to ban or regulate certain breeds. I tried a couple of times to contact Mr. Goolsby to get a better understanding of what he’s hearing, what exactly is prompting this request and what type of “local” laws are being considered. Unfortunately, I have not heard back from Mr. Goolsby. There are already laws on the books (both criminal and civil) in Texas regarding dangerous dogs. This request is simply asking whether the locals can enact extra laws that apply only to their community or county. I did chat with Natalya Sumner at the Houston Humane Society. Ms. Sumner says this is not exactly a new issue. She says every time there is a high profile mauling case or police raid a dog fighting ring there is renewed vigor regarding breed specific laws, not just in Texas but other states as well. “It doesn’t make sense to ban a specific breed because of isolated cases. It’s not the breed that’s a problem it’s the owners. We need to make better owners.” 

It will be interesting to see how the AG rules on this one. If the AG agrees then there may be a wave of new “local” laws regarding specific breeds. I want to know what you think about breed specific laws. I have also posted a couple of links for you to check out. The first is the actual request from State Representative Goolsby and the second is an excellent website regarding “dog laws”.

Request to the Texas Attorney General:

http://www.oag.state.tx.us/opinions/opinions/50abbott/rq/2008/pdf/RQ0765GA.pdf

Dog Law website:

http://www.dogbitelaw.com/

Neighborhood Eyesores
December 11, 2008

I have been working on a story regarding abandoned/vacant buildings throughout the city. The story is running tonight at ten. However, I want to know if you have one of these in your neighborhood. You can also call the city’s 3-1-1 line to report problem properties.

Here’s the link to the story: http://www.click2houston.com/investigates/18259754/detail.html

Warning: New Carjacking Technique!
December 10, 2008

OK, now that I have your attention I wanted to let you know about a hoax e-mail making the rounds. This one has been around since 2004 but it is making a comeback because it’s the Holiday Season and everybody is out and about buying presents. What Recession? Seriously, we all keep hearing about our blisteringly bad economy, but you would never know by looking at all the shoppers crowding stores. But I digress, back to the matter at hand. I’ve pasted a copy of the e-mail I received. Read it and then I’ll explain…

Warning..!!!! Warning..!!!! Warning..!!!!

Just last weekend on Friday night we parked in a public parking area. As we drove away I noticed a sticker on the rear window of the car. When I took it off after I got home, it was a receipt for gas. Luckily my friend told me not to stop as it could be someone waiting for me to get out of the car. Then we received this email yesterday:

THIS APPLIES TO BOTH WOMEN AND MEN

BEWARE OF PAPER ON THE BACK WINDOW OF YOUR VEHICLE–

NEW WAY TO DO CARJACKINGS (NOT A JOKE)’Heads up everyone! Please, keep this circulating… You walk across the parking lot, unlock your car and get inside. You start the engine and shift into Reverse. When you look into the rearview mirror to back out of your parking space, you notice a piece of paper stuck to the middle of the rear window. So, you shift into Park, unlock your doors, and jump out of your car to remove that paper (or whatever it is) that is obstructing your view. When you reach the back of your car, that is when the carjackers appear out of nowhere, jump into your car and take off. They practically mow you down as they speed off in your car. And guess what, ladies? I bet your purse is still in the car. So now the carjacker has your car, your home address, your money, and your keys. Your home and your whole identity are now compromised!

 BEWARE OF THIS NEW SCHEME THAT IS NOW BEING USED.

If you see a piece of paper stuck to your back window, just drive away. Remove the paper later. And be thankful that you read this e-mail. I hope you will forward this to friends and family, especially to women. A purse contains all kinds of personal information and identification documents, and you certainly do NOT want this to fall into the wrong hands.

This e-mail is not true. There has never been a documented case of this happening anywhere in the United States. There are a couple of reasons why this e-mail is so persistent. First, it is certainly a plausible scenario. However, if you think about it most of us park our cars head-in, which means most of us approach our car from the rear when we come back. Given that, it is unlikely we wouldn’t see something stuck to our back window. Second, some of these e-mails come from actual law enforcement officers. Here’s how that happens. An officer will get it and forward it to a friend or family member just as an FYI in case it turns out to be real. Then those people start forwarding the e-mail to everybody they know and those forwarded e-mails come with the officer’s name attached. Hence the air credibility. Still, this e-mail should serve as a reminder the thieves are out in droves during the Holidays. I don’t care how many times people are told don’t leave packages in your car, there are those who walk through life believing they’re surrounded by a bubble of invincibility. I’ll give you an example, I went to Best Buy over the weekend and I as walked through the parking lot I saw several cars with purses laying on the front seat, packages in the back, I even saw one person who left their coat with their Med Center ID out in the open. Not Smart. Trust me; I have covered enough of these stories to know that just because you are in a well lit, crowded parking lot does not ensure your belongings are safe. The thieves can move with freakish speed. I remember one couple who parked in a covered garage at a mall and were inside the mall for only twenty minutes. That was still enough time for someone to smash their back window and steal their brand new 72 inch flat-screen TV. All this happened in a parking lot with literally dozens of other cars around, people coming in and out and roving security patrols. Also, I know everyone is told to put their belongings in the trunk. That is great advice, but don’t wait to do it when you have arrived at your location. If you pull into a parking lot, get out and put everything in the trunk all you have done is tell every thief casing the place, “Hey, all you have to do is smash the window and hit the trunk release button.” Put things in your trunk before you get to where you are going. Better yet take packages home then go back out. I know that’s a pain, but it won’t be nearly as much of pain as losing hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars worth of merchandise. Yes Virginia, there is Santa Claus and even he has to watch his back! 

State School Investigation
December 2, 2008

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During the first part of this year I spent several months researching allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation at state schools. These schools care for those with mental and physical disabilities. Some of the residents have varying degrees of disabilities, but many need around the clock care. Residents come from  families that cannot afford the expensive medical care needed or simply cannot devote the time required. Unfortunately, some of the residents have simply been abandoned. In short, a lot of the residents at these schools cannot care for themselves. During my investigation I found more than 2,000 cases of abuse, neglect and exploitation occurring at these schools in a four year period. In 2006 the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into the Lubbock State School. The findings of that investigation were scathing regarding the quality of care. The DOJ then began investigating the Denton State School. A few days after my reports aired the DOJ announced it was investigating all state schools. We got a copy of those findings today. I’ll admit its a lengthy read but one that shows a system in severe need of overhaul. Essentially what the report says is Texas is not meeting minimum care requirements. More specifically, federal investigators cite a lack of care contributing to the deaths of some patients. State Representative Garnet Coleman put a finer point on it, “The state has failed. Texas gets and ‘F’ and if there’s anything lower than an ‘F’ we get that too.” Coleman has been pushing for change for more than a year, even holding a series of hearings and offering several recommendations for areas that could be improved. I’ve got stories running tonight at 6pm and 10pm.  I’ve posted a couple of links to my original stories and the entire DOJ report.

Original Stories: http://www.click2houston.com/news/17233426/detail.html

http://www.click2houston.com/news/17247520/detail.html

U.S. Department of Justice Report: doj-findings-letter-12-1-08