Determined mother saves her runaway daughter from human trafficking ring
On Wednesday, authorities in Tacoma, Washington, released details of how a determined mother did her own detective work and rescued her daughter from a regional human trafficking ring.
The mother of a runaway teen found her daughter’s picture on a Backpage.com website. Next, she set up her own undercover sting, by calling the number listed to ask how much she could get for $200. The person who answered, was unaware that the particular girl she was asking about was her own daughter. He told her what hotel to go to for a ‘meet and greet’ with the girl. The mother went to the location and was able to rescue her daughter. Once she had her daughter safely out of harm’s way, she shared the information she had uncovered and that lead police to busting one of the most sophisticated human trafficking rings in the region. This ring operated up and down the I-5 corridor from Everett to Olympia. Their main base of operation was in Tacoma.
22-year-old Michael Williams II is considered the main force behind the trafficking ring that he ran with Curtis Escalante. They were both arrested a month ago and the police went undercover to find the 18-year-old brother of Williams. On Tuesday, police arrested Mikael Williams of Tacoma, and were able to uncover two more teenage victims. Authorities believe that there are many other victims of this particular ring that haven’t been found.
Williams and his co-defendants were able to run this ring through the use of the marketing websites Craigslist and Backpage. If you go to Backpage.com and click on any city, you can then click on the adult section which traffickers use to advertise girls that are available for escort services. Most of these girls do not look like the posted age and no one checks if any of it is factual. Former NBA player, Greg Anthony was recently arrested after he saw an ad in Backpage and arranged a meeting with one of the escorts. The ad had been placed by undercover officers trying to cut down on the people who use Backpage for this reason.
The Washington Exploited and Missing Children Task Force commends this mother for the extremes she went through to recover her daughter safely. Lt. Ron Mead said, “As a result of that contact, had it not been for the mother’s involvement, we certainly wouldn’t have been aware of it as quickly as we were, and may not have been aware of it all.”
Tax Hacks 2015: 6 Things Sneaky Tax Preparers Won’t Tell You
It’s sad. Many highly ethical tax professionals are working hard to help taxpayers, but tax season brings out fraudsters, scammers and plain vanilla take-advantage-of-you-while-your-guard-is-down types. It can be hard to tell the difference.
From fraud to incompetence to hinky tricks to outright ripoffs, the field of tax preparation is a magnet for some of the worst consumer abuses. In the video above, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson describes common tax-time schemes to part you from your money. After watching, read on to find out what the worst tax preparers won’t tell you.
1. I’m incompetent and untrained.
Tax preparation is a mostly unregulated field. According to The National Consumer Law Center, in a report called “Riddled Returns: How Errors and Fraud by Paid Tax Preparers Put Consumers at Risk and What States Can Do”:
There are no minimum educational, training, competency or other standards. In 47 states, there are more regulatory requirements for hairdressers than tax preparers.
Preparers commit errors, misclassify taxpayers’ filing status, mishandle tax credits and even falsify information on tax returns, the report says. These aren’t just a few bad eggs, either. The problems involve “a significant percentage of the preparers tested,” the report says.
It’s no joke for taxpayers. “Consumers who select incompetent or unscrupulous preparers could face audits by the Internal Revenue Service or even criminal sanctions,” a NCLC statement warns.
Stay safe with tax preparation experts who are:
Licensed CPAs (certified public accountant).
IRS enrolled agents.
Trained volunteers with one of two programs, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or AARP Tax Aide (details below).
2. You could do this yourself.
Doing your own taxes saves the $273, on average, that National Society of Accountants says taxpayers will spend for tax preparation assistance this year. According to Huffington Post financial contributor Carrie Smith, you’re a good DIY candidate if you:
Have just one job.
No major changes in your income or filing status last year.
Own no property or investments.
Can understand the tax laws.
Are “a numbers person.”
Didn’t marry, divorce, lose a spouse or have a child last year.
Didn’t start a new business.
Aren’t easily overwhelmed by money issues.
One possible reason to consult an expert, Smith says, is that tax credits and deductions for dependents expire, depending on their ages:
If your child goes to college full-time, you can still claim them — and any education expenses — until they’re 24. Determining these situations accurately takes someone who is knowledgeable.
If you made less than $60,000 last year, you may use the IRS Free File tax prep software to prepare and file free of charge online. Free File uses electronic versions of IRS paper forms. You fill them out and file your taxes online. The software includes basic guidance only, however, so it’s best used if you’ve done your own taxes before.
3. You shouldn’t pay so much.
It can be hard to comparison shop for tax preparation services because preparers may be unwilling to quote a price or, if they do, give inaccurate quotes, according to The National Consumer Law Center report. If you can’t get a ballpark figure after describing your situation to a preparer, look for someone else.
It’s easy to try and compare the many tax preparation software products offered for free or cheap online for federal taxes, says Consumer Reports. Most don’t charge until you file your completed tax form, so CR recommends that you try programs and then close them before filing if you don’t like the price they quote.
4. Don’t click on those pop-ups.
There’s a cavalcade of free online tax preparation products, but they are free only if you ignore the options for upgrades. Stick with the no-frills versions of online products by turning a blind eye to pop-ups that offer enhanced services with fees attached.
5. You could get free help.
Some tax preparers will take your money although they know full well you qualify for free tax prep services. Before paying for tax help, check the options.
Free tax preparation is available from IRS-trained volunteers through VITA, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. You qualify if you are older than 65 or make less than $53,000 a year. People with disabilities and limited English-speaking abilities are eligible, too. VITA volunteers help with basic state and federal tax returns. Use VITA’s online locator tool to find help near you.
The AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program offers free tax help from IRS-trained volunteer for anyone, although it is focused especially on older Americans. Use AARP’s online locator to find help near you or call 888-227-7669.
For more free tax prep options, read Tax Hacks 2015: 8 Ways to Get Free Help Preparing Your Taxes.
6. You can get your refund quickly without these crazy fees.
Try to wait the roughly two-to-three weeks it takes to receive your refund and, if you can, avoid instant-refund products because of the ridiculously steep fees. The IRS describes these products:
If you file electronically, your tax preparer or tax preparation and filing software may suggest you purchase a bank product that typically sets up a temporary bank account to receive your income tax refund. Such bank products include, but are not limited to, refund anticipation loans, refund anticipation checks, gift cards and debit cards.
Federally regulated banks no longer make refund anticipation loans. But you’ll find them elsewhere, writes USA Today, citing an example of a refund loan with 273 percent interest.
Here are safe ways to get your refund as quickly as possible:
If you can’t pay the tax prep fee. Instead of getting a refund anticipation check to cover your tax prep costs, see if you can use one of the many no-cost tax preparation options.
If you don’t have a bank account. If you e-file, you can get your refund loaded onto a prepaid card or payroll card, says CreditCards.com. Or consider Walmart’s (WMT) new Direct2Cash tax refund service: Use a participating (non-electronic) tax-prep service (Walmart often has them in-store) and pick up your refund at a Walmart location after receiving a confirmation code in the mail. “Cash refunds will be available in roughly the same amount of time it takes for a direct deposit to show up in a filer’s account,” USA Today says. Walmart charges nothing, and the tax preparer can charge no more than $7 for the service.
If you have a checking account. Have the IRS deposit your refund directly into it, saving you from waiting for the mail to deliver your check.
If you just want the money fast. Also, U.S. News says that IRS data shows early filers get their returns in 21 days, on average, compared with longer waits for those who file later. Also, e-filing (filing electronically rather than sending a paper form by snail mail) puts your return in IRS hands faster.
WASHINGTON — You’ve downsized to an apartment, the kids are long gone, and you’re no longer eligible for some of the deductions and exemptions that had helped you lower your tax bill. But for those 65 years or older, there are other tax breaks that might benefit you come tax time.
For one, not all your Social Security benefits are subject to federal taxes. How much depends on your other income and filing status. “No one pays federal income tax on more than 85 percent of his or her Social Security benefits based on Internal Revenue Service rules,” the Social Security Administration says on its website.
To determine what percent of your benefits might be taxable, add half your benefits to your other income, including nontaxable interest. If your combined income is between $25,000 and $34,000 and your filing status is single, up to 50 percent of your benefits might be taxable, according to the IRS. For married couples filing jointly, the 50 percent taxable figure applies if your combined income is between $32,000 and $44,000. Combined income lower than the threshold? Social Security benefits aren’t taxable. If the combined income is above these income ranges, up to 85 percent is subject to income taxes.
Be sure to check your state tax laws. In many states, you won’t have to pay state tax on all or some of your Social Security benefits. The IRS offers free tax help for people 60 and older, working through nonprofit groups like AARP Foundation.
Standard Deduction or Itemize?
People 65 and over also should consider whether it’s more beneficial for them to claim the standard deduction or to itemize.
The standard deduction is higher for seniors — $7,750 if your filing status is single, $14,800 if you’re married filing jointly and you and your spouse are both at least 65. That compares to $6,200 for single filers under 65 and $12,400 for married taxpayers under 65 who are filing jointly.
“Seniors very often have already paid up their mortgage and they very often don’t itemize anymore,” said Jackie Perlman, principal tax research analyst at the Tax Institute at H&R Block (HRB). But it’s important to do the math — or let your tax preparer or tax software do it for you — to see whether it still makes sense to itemize even with the higher standard deduction.
Even if you don’t have mortgage interest to deduct, you can still deduct any property taxes you paid. State income taxes also are deductible, or alternatively, you can choose to deduct state sales taxes, an attractive option if you live in a state that doesn’t have an income tax.
Medical Expenses and Charities
For seniors, medical expenses have to exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income to be deductible. That threshold applies even if only one spouse has reached 65 and you file jointly. For those under 65, medical expenses are deductible only if they exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income.
And medical bills can be hefty for seniors. Covered medical expenses include the portion of doctor, dentist and hospital bills and the cost of prescription drugs not covered by insurance, as well as premiums for Medicare or other insurance coverage. Prescription eyeglasses are deductible, as are the cost of false teeth, hearing aids and wheelchairs. So is the cost of transportation to medical appointments.
Charitable donations also are deductible. However, seniors who are at least 70½ had another option for charitable donations. At that age, you’re required to take a minimum distribution for your individual retirement accounts. If you rolled that distribution over directly to a charity — instead of taking the money and then donating it — the distribution is not counted as income and therefore is not taxable.
“The difference is you’re lowering not only your taxable income but also your adjusted gross income,” Perlman said. And that can affect such things as whether Social Security benefits are taxable and whether you can deduct your medical expenses. But there’s no double-dipping. If you itemize, you can’t also deduct a charitable donation that was made through a direct rollover from an IRA.
There is also a small tax credit for low-income seniors, which Perlman says is not widely used. “It might be helpful for someone who neither contributed to the Social Security system nor ever married.”
Ten-year-old Yesenia Diosdado is revising an English assignment. But it turns out the language that’s proven to be most valuable is the one she knows that’s silent. Yesenia’s mother started teaching her sign language when she was just a year old.
“I have always explained to my kids — even if you may never use it — the importance of sign language is everywhere,” her mother Susan Mulidore told CBS News.
A little over a week ago Yesenia found out her mother was right all along. She was playing outside with a friend in Lenexa, Kansas. “I heard a weird sound so I wanted to go look,” she told CBS News.
It turned out the sounds and commotion were a car accident. Yesenia saw the paramedics trying to talk to a woman who’d been hurt and was still in the car. She could see they were having trouble communicating. That was until the brave girl rushed in and started signing with her. “Are you hurt?” she asked the woman using her hands.
The woman told her that she was indeed injured, and with Yesenia’s help also instructed the paramedics which hospital she wished to be admitted to.
“We would not have even been able to establish what her injuries were without significant delays of having to establish another means of communication,” said Chris Winger, one of the paramedics who was present at the scene of the accident.
While it turns out the woman wasn’t seriously hurt, Yesenia did help ease the transfer to the hospital. In recognition of her heroic efforts, the paramedics presented her with a certificate and medal of appreciation. While Yesenia was surprised by all the attention, it’s now undeniable that learning sign language was well worth the effort.
“Just knowing the simple alphabet of sign language can be a huge benefit, especially in a situation like this,” said her mother.
Your W-2: How to Understand This Important Tax Form
Throughout January, workers are getting W-2 tax forms from their employers. To help you decipher the often-obscure codes and numbers you’ll find on your form, below we’ve provided a box-by-box description of what you should expect to see on your W-2.
Boxes a-f: Personal and Business Information
Each W-2 includes information about your employer, including its name, address and tax identification number. It will also have your name, address, and Social Security number. It’s important to check this information to ensure accuracy. Because a copy of your W-2 goes to the Social Security Administration to establish your work history and eligibility for Social Security benefits, mistaken Social Security numbers can lead to lower monthly payments in retirement or even denial of benefits entirely.
Box 1: Wages, Tips, and Other Compensation
Box 1 includes the figure that you’ll include on your income tax form as taxable compensation. The number in Box 1 excludes benefits that aren’t subject to tax, such as amounts you have withheld to pay your share of health-insurance premiums or contributions to employer-sponsored retirement plans.
Box 2: Federal Income Tax Withheld
Box 2 shows how much money your employer took out of your paycheck to cover your income tax liability. You’ll include this on your tax return as well, and if it’s larger than what you owe in taxes, then you’ll get a refund for the difference.
Boxes 3 and 4: Social Security Wages and Tax Withheld
Boxes 3 and 4 show how much of your wages were subject to Social Security tax and how much tax your employer actually took out of your paycheck. This wage amount can differ from what’s in Box 1 because many items that are deductible for income-tax purposes aren’t exempt from Social Security tax. For instance, you still have to pay Social Security taxes on 401(k) and other employer-plan contributions. Also, if you earn more than the maximum amount on which Social Security charges payroll taxes — $117,000 for 2014 — then Box 3 will be capped at that amount.
Boxes 5 and 6: Medicare Wages and Tips and Tax Withheld
Similarly, Boxes 5 and 6 show the same calculations for Medicare taxation. The primary difference here is that there’s no upper limit on income subject to Medicare taxes, so the Box 5 figure will be higher than Box 3 for high-income earners.
Boxes 7 and 8: Social Security Tips and Allocated Tips
For those who work in jobs with substantial tip income, Box 7 will show what tips you reported to your employer. They’re already included in Box 1, so no additional work is necessary on your part. But if you have an entry in Box 8, your employer likely didn’t report enough tip income for you and other employees. As a result, you’ll have to add this amount to your taxable income in Box 1 and also file Form 4137 to report and pay additional payroll taxes on your tip income.
Box 9: Nothing to See Here
One oddity you’ll notice is that your W-2 skips over Box 9. This area was once used to reflect any advance payments of Earned Income Tax Credits your employer made to you. Under current law, though, employers no longer make such payments, and so many W-2s simply have a blank area of the form where Box 9 used to be.
Box 10: Dependent Care Benefits
Those who get financial assistance for caring for children or other dependents will have the amount received in Box 10. You’ll need this number to help calculate your Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit properly, as well as the amount you paid out of your own pocket for care.
Box 11: Non-qualified Plans
Some employees receive money from non-qualified deferred compensation plans, and for most employees, any amount here will already included in Box 1. But if your employer contributes to such a plan for services in prior years, it will be included here and in Boxes 3 and 5 but not necessarily in Box 1. Moreover, government employees who participate in Section 457 plans might have amounts here that won’t be included elsewhere on the W-2.
Box 12: Catchall Area
Your employer can put several items in Box 12. An explanation of each code is on the back of your W-2, and you can also find a list of codes on page 27 of these IRS instructions. Essentially, though, things you find here will give you information about the particular compensation or benefits you received, and in many cases, you’ll need these numbers elsewhere in your tax return to account properly for certain items.
Box 13: For Certain Workers
In Box 13, certain workers will have the boxes marked if they are statutory employees, participate in a company-sponsored retirement plan or receive sick pay from someone other than your employer. This information can determine eligibility for certain tax benefits, and it can also help the IRS identify individuals who would otherwise be treated as independent contractors.
Box 14: Other
This box is available for any other information an employer needs to give employees, such as union dues, payments for educational assistance, or taxes withheld for state disability insurance.
Boxes 15-20: State and Local Tax Information
Finally, Boxes 15 to 20 provide information that state and local tax authorities need to determine what you owe in state and local taxes. Income amounts will appear in Boxes 16 and 18, and any taxes you have withheld will appear in Boxes 17 and 19. You’llwant to use those figures in preparing your state or local returns.