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Questions Arising from Common Myths (Part 2)

By Jim Marasco, CPA, Partner

This is a continuation from “Questions Arising from Common Myths (Part 1)”.  With so much erroneous information, it’s hard to know what is truth and what is fiction.  Below are several questions/ topics that colleagues, clients or students have asked and what I’ve discovered.

Are appliances really spying on us?

Wi-Fi technology now exists in door locks, TV’s, thermostats and refrigerators. They are called “smart” devices because they are connected to the Internet. But, in the summer of 2016, it was discovered hackers commandeered Internet-connected video recording gadgets, such as baby monitors and home security cameras, to send a massive amount of traffic to popular websites creating outages. This breach did not appear nefarious. However, you can safeguard against some of these attacks by changing the default passwords and stay current with software patches and updates. If you maintain an Amazon Echo and Google Home, recognize that they capture and record conversations within listening range of the microphones and send that data to the cloud for storage and analysis similar to a Fit-Bit or Apple Watch.

Do car rental agencies monitor how and where you drive?

In 2015, various news sources ran stories alerting consumers that Hertz had installed cameras in one-eighth of their fleet as part of their NeverLost dashboard assistant. Stories quickly followed that smaller rental agencies were charging customers for crossing state lines or routinely exceeding posted speed limits. The truth is car rental companies all have manufacturer installed technology that allows for vehicle monitoring, tracking, etc. However, the major agencies have indicated they only obtain this information in rare circumstances or upon court order. Hertz also defended that they didn’t have the bandwidth or resources to activate the cameras that were installed in their vehicles. Any of this type of monitoring is required to be disclosed in your renter’s agreement. However, smaller agencies that are less risk tolerant continue to take advantage of this technology. Consumers should be more concerned about plugging their phones into the vehicles (Apple CarPlay, etc.) and having their personal information transfer into the vehicle for the next renter or agency to obtain. Before turning the vehicle back in, it is recommended that you delete any information that may have transferred.

Will the IRS really send over the police to arrest me for income taxes supposedly due?

This is a good one to end on. A client called in desperation the other day indicating he received a telephone call that he owed the IRS money and if he didn’t pay immediately, they were dispatching the police to arrest him. At least he was smart enough to get their number and say he needed to consult with his accountant first. If you have a tax discrepancy involving the federal government, they will send notices to your address first. If you’re married, you may receive separate notices to the same address. They won’t threaten to “dispatch the police.” That’s not to say that Treasury Agents don’t show up unannounced at a business. But that’s rare and the circumstances are more complicated. If you receive a call like this, don’t reveal any personal or credit card information – ask for their number and hang up. You can report them to the FTC or the IRS. In my case, I tried the number my client provided. By the time I called them back, the line had already been disconnected!

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