|Date:||September 25, 2017|
Hurricane Irma has blown through Florida, and the scam artists are showing up.
From unlicensed contractors to investment schemes, disasters like Irma can be a magnet for crooks looking for a quick buck, experts say.
The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation has already warned about scams tied to repairing damaged homes and receiving insurance payments.
Officials there say homeowners should always contact their insurance companies first and, if making temporary repairs, hire only licensed vendors. The state Department of Business and Professional Regulation maintains a contractor license lookup to check them out.
OIR says consumers should review all documents before signing them. Ask who is responsible for paying the vendor, the consumer or their insurance company.
Property owners considering using a public insurance adjuster should also check for licensing and confirm charges before signing a contract.
Securities regulators say to be wary of investment scams that could include promoters touting companies purportedly involved in cleanup, repair and recovery efforts; trading programs that falsely guarantee high returns; and classic Ponzi schemes where new investors’ money is used to pay money promised to earlier investors.
The Securities and Exchange Commission says one scam, usually via spam email, promises high returns for small, thinly traded companies that claim they will reap big profits from recovery and cleanup efforts. The SEC brought enforcement actions against individuals and companies who made false statements about alleged business opportunities after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Some fraudsters target consumers who have received lump-sum compensation from insurance companies, working on them to invest in speculative companies and ventures, the SEC said.
SunTrust unit pays penalty
The investment services subsidiary of SunTrust Banks will pay a $1.1 million penalty to settle charges by federal regulators that it collected avoidable fees from clients by improperly recommending higher-fee mutual funds.
The SEC said SunTrust Investment Services received more than $1 million from customers by pushing more expensive share classes of various mutual funds when cheaper shares of the same funds were available.
SunTrust, which operates the third-largest bank in Southwest Florida, began refunding the overcharged fees plus interest to affected clients after the SEC launched an investigation in mid-2015. More than 4,500 accounts were involved.
Investors were not told they were eligible for less-costly share-class options. SunTrust profited from higher commissions from the funds. The bank did not admit to nor deny the SEC findings.
“SunTrust made self-serving investment recommendations to the detriment of everyday investors who rely on mutual funds to secure their financial futures,” said Aaron W. Lipson, associate regional director for enforcement in the SEC’s Atlanta office. “The story has a happy ending for customers with the extra fees back in their accounts, and an obvious lesson for investment advisory representatives that you must always recommend the best deal for your clients, not yourselves.”
IRS deadlines extended by Irma
Taxpayers in Southwest Florida caught a break from the Internal Revenue Service over Hurricane Irma.
The IRS has extended deadlines to file and pay on certain individual and business tax returns that were facing upcoming deadlines.
Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties are included in the FEMA-designated disaster areas, so taxpayers there are eligible for relief.
Taxpayers who received extensions until Oct. 16 from the April filing deadline for their 2016 income tax returns now have until Jan. 31 to submit their returns. Taxpayers required to make estimated tax payments on Sept. 15 and Jan. 16 now have until Jan. 31 to make those payments.
Businesses’ quarterly payroll and excise tax returns due Oct. 31 may also now be delayed until Jan. 31.
The IRS said it will not charge late filing or payment penalties on these taxpayers.
Workers covered by 401(k) and similar employer-sponsored retirement plans also benefit in these disaster areas. Employers can relax rules so staffers to take out loans against their retirement accounts or make hardship withdrawals, which must be made by Jan. 31.
For more information on hurricane-related tax relief, go to www.irs.gov.
Contact John Hielscher at 361-4875, fax to 361-4880 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.