Here are some hot topics you should be aware of:
• Beware of IRS tax scams
There have been several variations of e-mail scams around since last year, which say you've got a refund coming, or you're being investigated by the IRS or asking you to fill out a customer survey.
They're all scams trying to get your Social Security number or other personal information. The IRS does not initiate any contact with taxpayers via e-mail, said spokesman Eric Erickson.
Be especially wary now that President Bush has signed the economic-stimulus package into law. It means additional refunds for many taxpayers. There's already reports of scams trying to take advantage of the rebates.
One scheme has consumers receiving a phone call from someone purporting to be an IRS employee. The caller uses the word ''rebate'' in saying the consumer is eligible for a sizeable rebate to file taxes early. All they need is your bank account number for the direct deposit of the check. If the person refuses, the scammer says the person is not eligible for the rebate. There are no advance payments on the rebates, the IRS doesn't force taxpayers to use direct deposit, and the IRS doesn't gather information by telephone.
• Information about tax rebates
We've received lots of questions about the official tax rebate here in the Beacon Journal newsroom. The information bears repeating.
Here's the official word from the IRS: If you're eligible for the rebate, you need to file a 2007 tax return.
That gets information to the IRS for the rebate. (You can find out if you're eligible by going to http://www.irs.gov).
If you're a senior who qualifies for the rebate with your Social Security benefits, but you don't normally file a tax return, you must file a return to receive payment. If you're eligible for the rebate but your benefits are not otherwise taxable or you didn't earn enough income to owe taxes, you won't have to pay any taxes on that return.
• Attorney General/DirectBuy action
Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann recently announced an agreement with DirectBuy Inc., which has five franchised locations in Ohio, including one in the Akron area. DirectBuy sells memberships to a buying club, which allows customers to purchase products directly from manufacturers.
Dann's office began looking at DirectBuy and its franchises more than a year ago after consumers complained of high-pressure sales tactics. Consumers alleged that certain terms and conditions of their membership were not disclosed at the initial sales presentation.
As part of the agreement, DirectBuy voluntarily agreed to provide a three-day, right-to-cancel option for consumers who sign up for its services. Ohio law does not require buying clubs to provide the rescission policy.
Also as part of the agreement, DirectBuy will pay the state $20,000 for materials to be used in connection with consumer education for financial literacy and related consumer protection rights.
A cancellation period, measured in business days, generally doesn't begin until the consumer receives written notification of the right to cancel.
• New anti-housing discrimination law
Starting March 20, Ohio's fair-housing law will make it illegal for landlords and other housing providers to discriminate against a person on the basis of military status, according to the Fair Housing Advocates Association in Akron. Military status includes the performance of duty, on a voluntary or involuntary basis, in a uniformed service and includes active duty, active duty for training, initial active duty for training, inactive duty for training, full-time National Guard duty and performance of duty or training by a member of the Ohio Organized Militia.
People who feel they are victims of military housing discrimination can file a complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission or file a lawsuit in state court within one year of the alleged act.
• Another scam
I've received several calls from savvy consumers who have received phone solicitations asking if they want to lower their interest rates on their credit cards or mortgage. When they start asking specific questions, they're usually met with a dial tone.
There are legitimate businesses that can help you refinance your debt, but certainly they won't hang up on you if you start asking them questions. If you're in the market to refinance your debt, initiate calls yourself to businesses and don't just rely on cold calls that come to your house.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at
330-996-3724 or blinfisher@