Buyer Beware: 4 Tips For Shopping At Going-Out-Of-Business Sales

Big-name retailers like Sears and Kmart are closing doors around the country, and niche shops like Delia’s are shutting down entirely. That means the newspapers and email boxes are littered with “going-out-of-business” ads. New products are going to be available at deep discounts.

The prime season for going-out-of-business sales is now.  In January, retailers that are going out of business are facing down a new set of bills without a major spending season until at least April. Now is the time they start shutting their doors and liquidating their merchandise.

It may seem like these sales represent a golden opportunity. Retailers have bills to pay and are desperate for cash. Meanwhile, consumers can buy stuff they need at a serious savings.

But it’s not that simple. The owner of a store that’s shutting its doors is still going to be responsible for the bills they owe. They’re trying to minimize their losses by selling goods as fast as possible. They’re also not counting on a lot of repeat customers, so they have little incentive to be truthful or honest. Watch out for the following tricks:

1.) ‘As-is’ merchandise

One of the first things most retailers do when they begin a liquidation sale is change their return policy. They’re trying to get inventory out the door, and having it come back in prevents them from doing so. They won’t take returns for any reason.

This little change can free them up to sell damaged, broken or otherwise defective merchandise at retail. Under ordinary circumstances, they’d never put the item on the shelf. Now, though, there’s no reason to keep it in the back.

If you’re buying fragile goods, like electronics or dinnerware, ask if you can open the box to make sure everything’s there. If a store employee seems unwilling, think twice. You might be on the verge of buying a lemon.

Beyond damaged goods, retailers may attempt to do the same thing with mislabeled products. At clothing sales, stores may counting on impulse decisions to drive volume. Since the price is so steeply discounted, many people will be tempted to purchase without trying on first. This is a great way to end up with a dress that doesn’t fit.

Also, don’t count on a warranty. Manufacturers will try to direct you to your retailer to honor your warranty. They’ll use this blame-shifting tactic to get out of paying for new merchandise. Expect the product you buy at a liquidation sale to receive no support.

2.) Discount gimmicks

There’s so much money to be made from going-out-of-business sales that a new kind of company has emerged. So-called professional liquidators run these sales on behalf of companies. The first thing they’ll do is mark up the prices of every item in the store by 20-30%.

Because of that, when you see “10% off everything in the store,” you should really be reading “5% increase on everything in the store.” The first weeks of a liquidation sale are an exercise in manipulative consumer psychology. The advertised discounts and the appearance of scarcity will drive consumer spending.

What keeps stores from running these kind of “mark-up/mark-down” sales all the time is reputation. When a store is going out of business, though, those concerns are the first thing out the door. “Everything must go” includes the brand and any integrity they’ve established with their customers.

While the discounts will come, they’ll come much later in the sale. They’ll also be on a much more limited selection of goods. Most of these firms increase their discounts weekly. By the second or third week of the sale, prices may be below retail.

3.) Buy now!

Liquidation sales rely on scarcity to create a sense of urgency. The limited time frame and small quantity of desirable goods can lead to impulsive decision-making. You can pay more for goods you don’t really need if you’re not careful.

Businesses may be desperate, but not quite in the way they’re portrayed. They’re desperate to make money now. The owners of these businesses have bills piling up and need cash. They’re not afraid to make long-shot claims about the features or effectiveness of their products.

This sense of urgency is most palpable during the first week or so of the sale. This is when most firms plan to make the most of their money. Holding off will mean less selection, but it will also mean less pushiness from salespeople.

4.) How you pay matters

Obviously, if you have gift cards, use them or lose them. Competitors aren’t going to honor those. Laws also provide little protection for gift card holders. Bankruptcy law treats them as creditors, meaning you’ll have to fight for repayment with credit card companies and other lenders. In general, once the merchandise is gone, the card is worthless.

Paying cash for large-ticket items to a desperate business can also be a poor choice. If you’re not leaving the store with your purchase, a cash deposit can leave you out of luck if they close before delivering your goods. You can sue, but the company doesn’t have assets to pay your damages.

Your best bet is to pay with a credit or debit card. These instruments frequently have refund policies that exist independent of retailers. If the goods never show up, you can get your deposit back by calling your issuer. Leave as small a deposit as the retailer will allow to protect yourself as much as possible.

Shop liquidation sales like you shop everything else: cautiously. Consider your options and shop around to find the best prices and make sure you actually need something before you buy it. Liquidation sales can be a great way to score some savings, but be cautious on the way.

How To Choose A Tax Preparer (And Why You Might Need To)

It’s tax time!  As you’re gathering your pay stubs and receipts in preparation for your annual headache, it might be worth considering whether you need professional help this year. A few things have changed.

First, the IRS is losing funding. If you were counting on getting help with the forms from the IRS, you might be in for record wait times. The IRS budget has fallen by 10% in the last five years, while costs have increased. Staff reductions of around 8% have mostly affected customer service and fraud protection, while training budgets have been cut down to almost nothing. Even if you do get through, the person you’re talking to will  be less likely to help you. One taxpayer watchdog group claims 47% of calls going to the IRS this year won’t get answered. Those who do will have to wait an average of 34 minutes to talk to a human.

The IRS maintains a “priority” line for tax professionals, which is the first reason you should consider hiring one. While the wait times there will be just as long, it won’t be you who has to do the waiting.

Second, this will be the first year the IRS has had to implement the tax credits and penalties of the Affordable Care Act. There will also be new rules for foreign taxpayers thanks to the Foreign Account Compliance Act. This will be the most complicated tax return many consumers have ever filed, according to Charles McCabe, president of Peoples Tax Income.

Third, the IRS will have less ability to enforce and investigate tax returns. This means you can be a little bolder in claiming a deduction or credit you might be entitled to, but it also means you need to streamline your return for easy processing. A tax professional will be able to help you accomplish both those goals.

The problem, though, is that tax returns have become an increasingly common target for fraud. Criminals file bogus returns on behalf of identity theft victims. Unscrupulous tax preparers may also file negligent returns designed to get big refunds deposited into their own accounts. This can leave you robbed of your return and facing serious IRS penalties.

When you choose a professional, you need to be sure you’re getting someone who will keep your best interests at heart. You need to do your homework and only entrust your financial information to a certified professional.

Here are three steps to help you find one.

1.) Do it by the numbers

For the first time, the IRS doesn’t have the authority to regulate tax preparers. In 2014, all professional preparers were required to obtain a PTIN (preparer tax identification number) which meant they were regulated. A recent federal court decision, though, ruled that the program overstepped the IRS’s authority.

The IRS Return Preparer’s Office came out with a compromise program. While preparers are no longer required to have PTINs, those who are serious about being transparent can complete a voluntary continuing education program to receive one. If you’re going to sit down with someone and reveal all your financial secrets, make sure they’ve gone through the program.

2.) Get references

In the same way you’d ask your friends to refer you to a hair stylist or a contractor, you should ask around to see who uses a tax preparer. Hiring help with tax returns is done by 60% of Americans; so the odds are good you know someone who does. If all of your friends file their own taxes, consider asking the owner of a local business you frequent. Small business tax preparation is incredibly complicated, but a good preparer can save a small business owner good money. They may be willing to refer you to their preparer.

You can work backward, too. Before you sit down with a preparer, ask him or her for the names of happy clients. If you don’t get any, think twice. Tax professionals work on the same reputation-based advertising that drives other service professionals. Someone who’s not willing to talk about success stories may not have any.

3.) Consider going big

If all else fails, consider going to a big corporate preparer. H&R Block and others like them have been around forever and they don’t stay in business by robbing customers. Their size and stability can provide some safety.

That size, though, can also create problems for them. Their training programs are not as rigorous as the education that independent preparers usually have been through. They also tend not to retain employees for very long, leading to a lot of inexperienced preparers. Be sure you ask critical questions about the moves they’re making.

Long-Standing IRA Rollover Interpretation Changed January 1, 2015

If you’re considering rolling over your IRA assets to an existing or new IRA, you need to be aware of a recent change that affects IRA rollovers.  The IRS changed its interpretation of the one-per-12-month rule following a recent U.S. Tax Court ruling in Bobrow v. Commissioner.

The court ruled that a taxpayer is limited to one rollover per 12-month period, regardless of the number of IRAs he has.  The limit will apply by aggregating all of an individual’s IRAs, including SEP and SIMPLE IRAs as well as Traditional and Roth IRAs, effectively treating them as one IRA for purposes of the limit.

The IRS for decades stated that you could rollover one IRA distribution per 12-month period for each IRA that you own.  The IRS applied the tax court’s new interpretation starting January 1, 2015.

These actions by the IRS will not affect the ability of an IRA owner to transfer funds from one IRA trustee directly to another, because such a transfer is not a rollover and, therefore, is not subject to the one-rollover-per-year limitation of Internal Revenue Code Section 408(d)(3)(B).  See Rev. Rul. 78-406, 1978-2 C.B. 157.  For assistance with completing an IRA direct transfer to NASA Federal, please contact our Member Services Team at 1-888-NASA-FCU (627-2328).  For additional information on the new rollover interpretation, visit http://www.irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/IRA-One-Rollover-Per-Year-Rule.

12 Ways To Practice Safe ATM Transactions

ATM fraud is on the rise. Here are 12 ways to protect yourself and your account from theft!

1. Look for recent device modifications – bulky keypads, electrical tape, fresh glue, unworn plastic, etc. These can be signs of a PIN capture device being used.

2. Check for cameras – tiny pinholes provide clear views of the keypad and are a prime target for recording PINs. Security cameras designed for safety are obvious and usually mounted further away.

3. Cover the PIN pad with your other hand to keep your transaction safe from prying eyes.

4. Look for people sitting nearby who are using laptops, tablets, or cellphones. If they’re sitting there for more than a few minutes, they may be eavesdropping using the device.

5. Do not share your PIN with anyone you don’t want using your card (and that should be a very small circle). If you write down your PIN (not recommended), keep it in a secure location away from the card. Don’t carry it in your wallet or record it in your phone!

6. Only use ATMs in well-lit, public spaces. Prefer those that offer drive-up service and don’t have buildings or heavy foot traffic nearby.

7. If you have trouble with an ATM, go to the nearest bank branch or use another ATM. DO NOT let strangers “help” you with the transaction.

8. Avoid ATMs in tourist hot spots like shopping malls – these high traffic areas make it easier for thieves to work.

9. Monitor your checking account statement regularly for suspicious or unknown charges.

10. Report any unusual account activity to your credit union right away.

11. Remember that POS terminals, gas station consoles and other payment locations are just as vulnerable as standalone ATMs.

12. Whenever possible, process your debit card transaction as a “credit” transaction so you will be prompted to sign for it rather than enter a PIN that can be seen by the next person in line.

Apple PayTM and Chip Cards

We always appreciate hearing from our members, because it helps us to improve upon the services that we offer. We have several projects underway to further enhance your experience with NASA Federal and to help protect the security of your account information. To answer a few of the questions we have received from members, we wanted to share an update on two projects that are currently underway.

When is Apple PayTM coming to NASA Federal?

Depending on Apple’s approval, we hope to introduce Apple Pay to our members within the next few months. We are excited to offer this service to our many iPhone 6 users who we know are also very excited to use the service on their new phones.

When Apple Pay was first launched in October, only a select few, larger financial institutions were a part of the release. NASA Federal is a part of a small group of other financial institutions that are approved to begin the process of fully testing Apple Pay with our systems in preparation for making it available to our members in the next few months.

For more information about Apple Pay, visit https://www.apple.com/iphone-6/apple-pay/.

When will NASA Federal begin issuing chip cards?

At NASA Federal, we’re constantly looking for ways of giving you more with your NASA Federal credit cards.  To provide you with greater flexibility and enhanced security, we are working to offer chip cards within the October- November 2015 time frame.

Over the next year, more merchants will begin to install chip-enabled terminals. The embedded chip in our new cards will enhance card security, giving you peace of mind when you use your card at chip-enabled terminals.

Once our new cards are issued, using your card at the chip-enabled terminals will be easy. Simply insert your chip card and sign to authorize the transaction.  For merchants who are not yet equipped with chip-enabled terminals, swipe the magnetic strip and sign your name as usual.  When making transactions over the phone or online, nothing changes. Simply provide your credit card number, and complete the transaction as you do today.

While we’re working on enhancing the security of your cards, rest assured knowing that you have the benefit of Visa’s® Zero Liability for unauthorized transactions on your NASA Federal Credit or Debit cards.

Be Wary of ‘Order Confirmation’ Emails

Republished from http://krebsonsecurity.com/2014/12/be-wary-of-order-confirmation-emails/ originally published on 12/14/2014

If you receive an email this holiday season asking you to “confirm” an online e-commerce order or package shipment, please resist the urge to click the included link or attachment: Malware purveyors and spammers are blasting these missives by the millions each day in a bid to trick people into giving up control over their computers and identities.

Home Depot Scam Confirmation

An “order confirmation” malware email blasted out by the Asprox spam botnet recently.

Seasonal scams like these are a perennial scourge of the holidays, mainly because the methods they employ are reliably successful. Crooks understand that it’s easier to catch would-be victims off-guard during the holidays. This goes even for people who generally know better than to click on links and attachments in emails that spoof trusted brands and retailers, because this is a time of year when many people are intensely focused on making sure their online orders arrive before Dec. 25.

Walmart Scam Confirmation

This Asprox malware email poses as a notice about a wayward package from a WalMart order.

According to Malcovery, a company that closely tracks email-based malware attacks, these phony “order confirmation” spam campaigns began around Thanksgiving, and use both booby-trapped links and attached files in a bid to infect recipients’ Windows PCs with the malware that powers the Asprox spam botnet.

Asprox is a nasty Trojan that harvests email credentials and other passwords from infected machines, turns the host into a zombie for relaying junk email (such as the pharmaceutical spam detailed in my new book Spam Nation), and perpetuates additional Asprox malware attacks. Asprox also deploys a scanning module that forces hacked PCs to scan websites for vulnerabilities that can be used to hack the sites and foist malware on visitors to that site. For an exhaustive and fairly recent analysis of Asprox, see this writeup (PDF) from Trend Micro.

Malcovery notes that the Asprox spam emails use a variety of subject lines, including “Acknowledgment of Order,” “Order Confirmation,” “Order Status,” “Thank you for buying from [insert merchant name here]”, and a “Thank you for your order.”

Target Scam Confirmation

Target is among the many brands being spoofed by Asprox this holiday season.

If you receive an email from a recognized brand that references an issue with an online or in-store order and you think it might be legitimate, do not click the embedded links or attachment. Instead, open up a Web browser and visit the merchant site in question. Generally speaking, legitimate communications about order issues will reference an order number and/or some other data points specific to the transaction — information that can be used to look up the order status at the merchant’s Web site.