Tax Tip: Tax Changes for 2011

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Back in December, President Obama and Congress agreed on a number of tax cuts for this year.

“One of the little goodies in there was this two percent payroll tax holiday, and that's a reduction of Social Security tax," said Kathy Pickering of H&R Block. “You don't have to file anything, you don't have to do anything, it's just automatically calculated in your paycheck."

That's a big saving for wage earners and the self employed.

“If you make $50,000 a year you could be getting back $1,000 across the year in your paycheck," Pickering said.

That tax deal brought other benefits, including one that involves paying for college.

"The American Opportunity Credit got extended because that was set to expire,” Pickering said of the tax deduction for tuition and fees.

Pickering says there was another benefit for home owners in the tax deal.  “The energy credit was extended, but that's being reduced from $1,500 to $500.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Get Tax Credit for Making Your Home Greener

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Did you make changes in your home last year to reduce your energy bill?  If so, going green may pay off for you this tax season.

If you simply remodeled your kitchen or bathroom, the tax credit may not apply to you.  But if you invested in appliances or fixtures to make your home greener, then you may be able to write those expenses off.

Upgrades that make your home more energy efficient can earn tax credit that gives you back 30 percent of what you spent.  Some of those upgrades include skylights, outside doors, insulated windows, high efficiency furnaces, water heaters and central air conditioning units.  If they were installed in your primary residence in 2010, you can take up to $1,500 off your taxes.

The deadline to file your taxes is Monday, April 18.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


California's List of Top Delinquent Taxpayers Released

Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- The State of California Franchise Tax Board released its annual list of the state's top 250 delinquent taxpayers on its website Wednesday.  The list includes businesses and individual taxpayers with state income tax liens greater than $100,000.

Former Baywatch star and Playboy playmate Pamela Anderson appears on the list.  She's said to owe $493,144.68 for a tax lien filed on April 7, 2009.  Anderson's residence is listed as Woodland Hills, 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

As of April 7, 2011, the biggest delinquent taxpayer was Halsey Minor, founder of CNET, the technology news site.  He and his wife, Shannon, whose address is listed as San Francisco, owe over $13.1 million.  Their tax lien was filed on July 21, 2009.

With the April 18 tax deadline just five days away, celebrities may want to take heed of the new list.

"When taxpayers do not pay their fair share, it places an unfair burden on those who do," the tax board states on the website.  "Closing the gap is in the best interest of all Californians."

The state's annual tax gap is estimated to be $6.5 billion, according to the website.

"We urge any taxpayer who appears on this list to contact us immediately to arrange to pay their delinquent state income tax," the board said.

As of April 8, the IRS has processed over 95.8 million individual tax returns. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Fed's Disable Cyber-Crime Computer Network that Stole Millions 

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The FBI and the Justice Department say they have disabled a "botnet" of more than two million computers infected with malicious code that Eastern European cyber criminals may have used to drain millions of dollars from bank accounts around the world.

The victims include a Tennessee defense contractor that had $241,000 stolen from a bank account, a Michigan real estate company that lost more than $115,000, a South Carolina law firm that had $78,000 taken from accounts and a North Carolina investment firm that lost $151,000 from fraudulent wire transfers, according to court documents.

U.S. authorities continue to combat the network of remotely controlled computers called the "Coreflood" botnet, which has secretly recorded computer users' keystrokes to compromise vast amounts of banking and financial data. Botnets are armies of so-called "zombie" computers, often ordinary people's machines, that have been hijacked by hackers and ordered to vacuum up private information from bank accounts, credit card data, email services and social media sites.

Coreflood is believed to have been operating since 2002 and has resulted in an unknown number of U.S. bank accounts being broken into with losses that could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to FBI officials.

The Justice Department and FBI filed a civil complaint against 13 "John Doe" defendants, charging them with wire fraud, bank fraud and illegal interception of electronic communications. Investigators will seek to identify the "John Does" as the investigation continues.

The FBI and Justice Department also have executed search warrants to seize Internet domain names believed tied to be the control servers for the Coreflood program.

The botnet has stolen vast amounts of funds from bank accounts in the United States, FBI officials said, and could have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide.

Investigators received a temporary restraining order from the district court allowing them to seize control of the infected computer servers to try to further dismantle and disable the Coreflood botnet. According to Justice Department officials, the server that will seek to counter Coreflood will be run by the Internet Systems Consortium, a non-profit group that works on Internet infrastructure and security issues.

FBI officials say that Coreflood program still will be present on victims' computers, but those victims can take action to remove the malicious software through proper security measures.

In a press release Wednesday, DOJ noted, "The public may go to the following sites operated by U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) and the Federal Trade Commission, respectively: and"

Microsoft also has developed malicious software removal tools to remove botnets including Coreflood.

Although FBI officials declined to say where the Coreflood botnet originated, previous media reports and cyber-security experts have traced it to cyber criminal gangs in Russia. Researchers at Dell SecureWorks claim they were the first to trace Coreflood to a computer crime ring from Russia. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Gordon Snow, the assistant director of the FBI's Cyber Division, spelled out how Russia and Eastern Europe were a hotbed of computer crime.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Job Listings: 22,000 Government Positions Posted on

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock (NEW YORK) -- Looking for a booming job market? Look no further than the website, where the federal government lists all its job openings. There are thousands of positions, many with six-figure salaries, and no apparent sign of budget belt-tightening.

Here is a sampling of some of what's listed:

The Air Force is offering up to $115,000 a year for an audio-visual specialist.

The assistant secretary of Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior plans to hire a "new media specialist" to deal with Facebook and Twitter for $115,000 a year. An Interior Department spokesman told ABC News this is an urgently needed post to fill because a court order has kept the Bureau of Indian Affairs off the Internet for seven years.

The National Weather Service has a dozen openings for meteorologists, paying up to $136,000 a year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is in the market for a speechwriter, offering a salary of $136,000 a year.

The Environmental Protection Agency will pay $155,000 a year for a new spokesman.

That's pretty good money. By comparison, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs made an annual salary of $171,000.

Indeed, there are many high-paying spokesman jobs listed, including one for the Department of Homeland Security that pays from $105,211 to $136,711.

There are also more exotic jobs:

There are 11 openings for lower-paying jobs at the military's posh Klipper golf course in Hawaii.

There is an opening for a fitness instructor on a U.S. Army base in Germany for $38,000. Among the perks: They'll help repay your college loans.

Overall, there are 22,000 jobs and no sign of an economic downturn. Indeed, since the recession started in 2007, the size of the non-military federal workforce has shot up by 250,000 workers, an increase of about 10 percent.

Tom Gavin, a spokesman for President Obama's Office of Management and Budget, points out that the president has imposed a two-year pay freeze on federal workers, a move that the White House says will save $60 billion in 10 years. And, Gavin said, the bulk of recent hiring has been in security-related agencies such as Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs. He pointed to this line in the president's budget: "Overall, security agency employment grew by 22 percent from 2001 to 2010. During the same period, employment in non-security agencies as a percent of population fell by 4 percent."

One thing that is not in dispute: These federal jobs come with nice benefits -- 10 paid holidays, 13 sick days and up to 26 vacation days. Additionally, there is a liberal leave policy "that provides ample time off to take care of your personal, recreational and your health care needs."

If there is any belt-tightening going on in Washington, it's not apparent here.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Fed's 'Beige Book' Encourages a Positive Finish for Stocks

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A beige book that showed more "green" than the one before it pushed the markets to a positive finish, but it wasn't by much.

The Dow closed up seven points, the Nasdaq added 17 and the S&P gained a fraction of a point Wednesday.

The beige book is the Federal Reserve's periodic report card on the economy.  It showed improvement across the nation, especially in the manufacturing sector.  Not nearly as positive: Higher oil prices are still a concern.  And employees aren't seeing the raises they'd like because they lack leverage in this tight jobs market.

But that could be changing.  There are signs more people may be hearing "You're hired."  The government says businesses posted the largest number of job openings in more than two years last month.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New York Man Says Emails Prove Facebook Ownership Stake

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Could seven-year-old emails cut Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's billions in half? Paul Ceglia, the New York man who last year claimed he owns a large stake in Facebook, thinks so.

On the same day that a federal appeals court sided with Zuckerberg in a separate Facebook ownership suit brought by Harvard classmates Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, Ceglia filed an amended complaint in his case with new evidence he says proves that 50 percent of Zuckerberg's interest in Facebook belongs to him.

Filed Monday with a U.S. district court in New York, the updated complaint, submitted by a new legal team, includes a series of emails it says Zuckerberg and Ceglia exchanged in 2003 and 2004.

According to the complaint, Ceglia claims the messages show that Zuckerberg agreed to give Ceglia a 50 percent share in the website that became Facebook, but later "embarked on a secret scheme" to cut Ceglia out of the company.

Included in the complaint was a 2004 e-mail allegedly sent by Ceglia to Zuckerberg accusing Zuckerberg of stealing his programming code to create Facebook: "You've got some nerve talking about me owing you with the CRIMINAL stunts you've pulled (sic) Reasonable people go to court to resolve their differences they don't go stealing things dude, you stole code, not once, not twice but THREE TIMES! Do you have any idea the damage you've done??? Grow up, take a f***ing ethics class, choke yourself with that silver spoon of yours," Ceglia allegedly wrote.

Facebook has acknowledged that Zuckerberg did do some computer programming for Ceglia, but has called Ceglia's ownership claims "absurd" and "frivolous."

"This is a fraudulent lawsuit brought by a convicted felon, and we look forward to defending it in court. From the outset, we've said that this scam artist's claims are ridiculous and this newest complaint is no better," Orin Snyder, an attorney representing Facebook from the firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, said in a statement about the amended complaint.

Ceglia, who filed his first complaint last July, has acknowledged that his record with the law isn't exactly spotless. In 1997, he pleaded guilty to felony possession of so-called magic mushrooms. He's also said that it was a separate legal skirmish that led to his campaign against Facebook in the first place.

In an interview with Bloomberg News last summer, he said he wouldn't have found the old contract supporting his Facebook ownership claim had he not been sued in civil court by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo over his wood-pellet fuel company.

In 2009, Cuomo sued Ceglia, his wife and Allegany Pellets, the couple's Wellsville, N.Y., wood-pellet fuel company, for taking more than $200,000 from customers but failing to deliver any products or refunds. The Ceglias and Allegany Pellets settled the case in Oct. 2010, after paying more than $125,000 in restitution and fees.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Famed TV TaxMasters Accused of Fraud and Deception

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Despite accusations in two states of deceptive business practices, the Houston-based tax resolution company TaxMasters continues to spend millions saturating CNN, Fox News and other cable channels with commercials promising to help Americans facing problems with the IRS.

"This is a company which is taking advantage of people, and unfortunately when people see it on TV, they do believe in it," said Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, who has accused the company of fraud and deception in a civil action suit.

The Texas attorney general has filed a similar lawsuit, alleging the company unlawfully "engaged in false, misleading, and deceptive acts and practices."

An investigation airing Wednesday on World News with Diane Sawyer and Nightline will examine whether TaxMasters' promises are too good to be true. 

In a statement, CNN said the network was "aware of pending legal activity" and had been told by TaxMasters that it was working to address the claims with the state authorities. "We continue to monitor any activity for developments or resolution, and will further evaluate our relationship as it becomes necessary," the network said in the statement.

Fox News acknowledged receiving viewer complaints. "Anytime we have received a complaint about TaxMasters we forward it to them and tell them they have five working days to resolve the complaint," said Dana Klinghoffer, Director of Media Relations for Fox News. While Klinghoffer did not disclose the number or nature of the complaints, she said they have all been resolved.

The television commercials feature TaxMasters' red-bearded founder and CEO, Patrick Cox, who claims his company's staff of former IRS agents and tax professionals "have helped many good people just like you."

The TaxMasters ad blitz has been a driving force in the company's soaring corporate revenues. The company, which went public last year, brought in $45.7 million in 2010, a three-fold increase in two years, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company linked "an increase in advertising expense" to "increased sales volume" in its year-end filing.

The Minnesota attorney general says many of the company's employees are skilled tele-marketers who have little knowledge of the complicated tax issues faced by people who have fallen behind in filing their returns or making tax payments.

"When you call, you think you're talking to a tax professional," said Swanson. "You're really talking to just a salesperson who's trying to get you to sign up."

A posting on the TaxMasters' website last year sought "tax consultant-inside sales representatives" who were strong closers.

"Are you a talented closer ready to move into the next income bracket?" the ad stated.
"Previous tax knowledge is not required," stated the employment ad, which TaxMasters says has since been modified.

Cox declined to be interviewed by ABC News, and in a written statement he did not address the specific allegations in the two states' lawsuits. TaxMasters has denied the allegations in the lawsuits and Cox said the company "prides itself on honest customer service, a transparent process with our customer, and seeking fair treatment from the IRS."

At the heart of the problem, says Swanson, is a requirement that customers pay an upfront fee ranging between $2,000 and $8,000.

"When you pay these upfront, advanced fees, now you're signed up, you're stuck, and the promised help doesn't materialize," she told ABC News.

Audio tapes of some sales calls, turned over to the attorney general by TaxMasters, prove the point, she says.

Salespeople tell potential customers TaxMasters is 97 or 98 per cent successful in reducing the amountof taxes owed.

"You're owing $19,000," the TaxMasters salesman tells a customer on a recording provided to ABC News by the attorney general.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Top 10 Companies Hiring for Job Seekers

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- With the U.S. economy gaining some traction at long last, big companies that had all but halted hiring in the past few years seem to be coming back in a big way by adding thousands of jobs.

McDonald's, Intel and Google are three of the 10 companies featured by online publication 24/7 Wall Street in a study of companies that are hiring this year.

The study by the publication and employment consulting firm Challenger Gray & Christmas analyzed data from the past year to create a list of companies that are adding the most jobs.

Take a look at the top 10 companies hiring:

1. Home Depot Increase: 60,000

The building supply company is gearing up for its booming sales season by adding seasonal and full-time employees.

2. McDonald's Increase: 50,000

The fast-food company will begin its new campaign to redefine the "McJob" by hiring thousands of workers in positions that range from entry level to management.

3. Lowes Increase: 10,000

In January, the company announced plans to add 8,000 to 10,000 to hourly and part-time jobs, mostly on weekends.

4. Ford Increase: 7,000

The company announced it will add 7,000 hourly and salaried positions over the next year in positions ranging from engineering to manufacturing.

5. Google Increase: 6,200

Earlier this year, the internet search giant announced plans to boost its workforce by about 25 percent.

6. Intel Increase: 4,000

The CEO of Intel, Paul Otellini, announced plans to add 4,000 U.S. jobs this year in product development and research and development.

7. Quintiles Increase: 1,700

The pharmaceutical company continues its hiring plans despite layoffs earlier this year.

8. Increase: 1,600

The mammoth online retail giant plans to add 1,600 jobs to its payroll.  The online shopping Web site has openings for software developers and advertising salespeople in its careers section.

9. YRC Worldwide Increase: 1,100

The transportation provider announced an initiative to hire more sales professionals in the U.S.

10. Wells Fargo Increase: 1,000

The banking institute is adding positions in the Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia area for jobs that range from teller to store manager at the previously acquired Wachovia bank.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Empire State Building to Be Publicly Owned?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstotck(NEW YORK) -- People may soon be able to own a piece of New York's Empire State Building.

Citing people familiar with the plan, The New York Times reports that the family behind the 102-story art deco tower is considering starting a publicly traded real estate company that will include the skyscraper.  If approved, the proposal will allow people to purchase stock in the company, and, hence, become a part owner of the famous building.

The new company may also feature other buildings owned by the Malkin family, including some in New York City, Westchester County in New York and Connecticut, according to the Times.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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