■ Bailout deals
■ Phone tax
COMPUTER SYSTEMS AT universities across the
country are becoming favorite targets of hackers.
Colleges account for the largest percentage of hacker
hits: about 30 percent of computer security breaches
reported last year, according to the consumer data-collecting firm ChoicePoint. (Ironically, ChoicePoint
itself was a victim of a major security breach in 2005.)
Statistics show rising numbers of these problems,
which have exposed personal information of thousands of students, alumni, employees and college
applicants, including Social Security numbers and, in
some cases, medical records. Since last January, at
least 845,000 people have had sensitive information
jeopardized in 29 security failures at colleges.
Authorities say hackers are realizing that col-lege-based computers hold many of the same types
of records as banks, but they are much easier to
break into and lift information from. One security
expert said schools are targeted because hackers have
found out operating budgets don’t make computer
security a priority. This makes schools easy prey.
Unfortunately, according to one security official,
“a university is fighting for every dollar to maintain a
good education standard and it doesn’t necessarily
allocate a security budget—at least not until it gets hit
a couple times and causes major problems.”
It’s critical that universities allocate sufficient
funds to protect their computer systems. Students,
meanwhile, should take basic steps to protect their
personal information. See the Identity Theft
Resource Center, www.idtheftcenter.org, for tips on
avoiding and responding to identity theft.
the property if the homeowner is eventually unable
to buy back a home.
States fighting mortgage fraud
Illinois has a new law to protect homeowners
from “bailout deals,” a type of mortgage fraud. It
requires written details of services from mortgage
bailout firms and gives homeowners more flexibility
if they want to cancel an agreement. It goes into
effect in January, and many other states are considering similar laws.
Homeowners who are struggling to make payments can opt for a bailout and transfer their house
deed to a third party for a limited period of time.
This supposedly allows them to get back on their feet
financially and purchase the home back with a new
mortgage. Unfortunately, many homeowners who
thought they were temporarily signing over the title
to their home are never able to get it back.
The new Illinois law allows the owner to cancel
a bailout agreement up to five days after it is signed.
If the deal is canceled, the owner will regain the title
and any mortgage debt carried before the agreement. Additionally, rescue firms must pay the homeowner at least 82 percent of the fair market value of
WE BOUGHT a house 12
years ago. At the walk-
through, we realized it
didn’t have a driveway,
though the model did.
We bought it anyway,
because of the affordabil-
ity and the good neigh-
borhood. The community
association limits each
residence to two cars
unless the property has a
driveway. There are other
parking spaces available,
but they’re for visitors.
The city confirms that
the community is a “lim-
nity.” When we moved in
my two kids were young,
but now they both drive.
We have four vehicles,
and they’ve been towed
several times. The asso-
ciation isn’t fair!
there were new
rules that you
didn’t agree to,
then you could
cry foul. But
you knew the
limit when you
moved in. It’s not the
I suggest that you
propose to the associa-
tion that they convert
some of the visitors’
spaces to residence
parking, obtainable by
permit for a monthly fee.
Your other options are to
appeal to the city council
to rezone the community,
reduce the number of
cars parked at your home
to conform to the rules or
IRS to refund phone overcharges
Here’s a follow-up to a story that has been in the
news recently about an obsolete tax that is finally
being removed from current phone bills.
An obscure federal tax on long-distance calls
was levied on wealthy phone users to help support
the eight-month Spanish-American War in 1898,
and it was never repealed. Over the years, the tax has
trickled down to virtua lly all phone users.
However, according to federal
regulators, anyone who has paid
for long-distance or cellular phone
service in the last three years is
entitled to a refund. The size
depends on the amount of calling.
Those who regularly pay
substantial bills for long-distance and cellular service may be eligible for a
Phone users must
file a refund claim with
their 2006 federal
The IRS is still determining how to calculate who is entitled
to how much.
I suggest that you
watch for more information as tax time gets
closer. To learn more,
go to www.IRS.gov. You
might also start collecting receipts from
calls you made from
2003 to 2006. C
AMY CAN TRELL
David Horowitz is a leading consumer advocate.
His “Fight Back!” commentaries are heard daily on
the Jones Radio Network. For stations and times,
check the radio page at www.fightback.com.
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