Beware of Virus Hoaxes

April 29, 2010

A ”Postcard from Hallmark’ virus alert is doing the rounds.  Don’t worry, it is a hoax.

A friend forwarded me an email today alerting me to a new ‘Postcard from Hallmark’ virus, which it said had been discovered by McAfee ‘yesterday’, and was classified by  Microsoft as  ‘the most destructive virus ever’.   The message warned me that this virus would destroy my hard drive without warning, and implored me to forward the email to all my contacts.

Ever inquisitive, and eager to protect myself against this impending menace, I quickly googled ‘Postcard from Hallmark virus’. Imagine my surprise when I learned within seconds that this isn’t a virus at all, but a hoax that has been doing the rounds online since 2008!

Alarmingly, Google also lists a host of “internet security” products that I can buy in order to ward off the fictitious ‘Hallmark’ virus.  I have no way of knowing whether these are genuine products. But if the ‘virus’ doesn’t exist in the first instance, why the need to buy something to protect against it?

The next time I get an email warning me of an imminent virus disaster, I will check out it first on google and elsewhere before forwarding the alert to my contacts and friends, or spending money on fixes.  It might be a good idea for you to do likewise.  In the meantime, be careful out there…

Barack Obama’s Tax Return is online

April 20, 2010

US President Barack Obama’s 2009 Income Tax return has been published online.  On 15 April, the tax return deadline day for all U.S. citizens, the details of Mr. Obama’s tax return were officially released by the White House.   It makes interesting reading.

The return tells us that the  President earned  over $5 million in 2009 from his activities as an author. His books “The Audacity of Hope” and “Dreams from My Father” have sold in massive volumes worldwide.

President Obama paid almost $1.8m tax in 2009

President Obama’s gross earnings from this source amounted to $5,661,666, against which he claimed deductions for $471,022 in “commissions & fees”,  $866 for “office expenses” and a princely $279 for “other expenses”.    The President’s total tax bill for 2009 amounted to $1,792,414, or about 32% of his income.

His bill would have been a lot smaller had Mr. Obama been in a position to use the Irish tax exemption for authors of “original and creative” works.  Frankly, I am surprised Bertie Ahern forgot to tell him.

Why do Revenue still print Paper Tax Returns?

April 13, 2010

A Dublin print firm has accused the Revenue Commissioners of “economic treason” after the contract to print Tax Return forms was awarded to a Spanish company. This is according to a report in today’s Irish Independent.  The contract is said to be worth €225,000 to the tender winner.

Martin Mansergh, Minister of State at the Office of Public Works, defended the tender award yesterday on RTE’s Today with Pat Kenny radio show, by saying that he was not prepared to engage in “protectionism” to help the Irish print industry.  All contracts over €125,000 must be put to public tender across the EU, and it seems that Irish printers find it difficult to compete for these contracts with larger and more efficient outfits overseas.  The audio link to this discussion is here.

No more paper Tax Returns  - please....!

I cannot help thinking that both the print industry (which, admittedly has shed thousands of jobs in recent years) and the Minister  are missing the point.

There is no earthly reason why, in 2010,  the Revenue Commissioners need to spend hundreds of thousands of euro in printing and distributing blank tax returns.  The Revenue’s own ROS system, which allows taxpayers and their accounants to file returns online,  is a runaway success. As is its website, where all forms & leaflets are available 24/7 for immediate and easy download.  Yet Revenue continues to print tax returns as if the web didn’t exist.

In the past four or five years, every Income Tax return I have filed for my clients has been submitted online via ROS.  Yet each year, the Revenue persist in sending paper tax returns to me for all my self-assessment clients.  Each Spring, a series of large boxes are delivered to the office of my firm. These boxes contain Form 11 income tax returns for each of my clients, each with the client’s name, PPS number and Revenue codes printed on the front page.

These tax return forms, at the same time, are both extremely important (in that each contains clients’ sensitive personal data) and absolutely useless and redundant.  They are also very awkward to dispose of, as their booklet format is not exactly shredder-friendly and for obvious reasons they cannot just be thrown in the recycling bin.  At least my confidential document destruction supplier can earn a few bob by taking them off my hands – and from every accounting firm in the country.

In order to end this massive waste of resources, the Revenue should abandon its policy of printing massive volumes of tax returns.  By  limiting its print runs to cater for the small minority who actually want paper returns, it will save money and, oddly enough, generate some much-needed business for Irish printers.

Revenue’s Online VRT Calculator – useful but…

April 6, 2010

If you’re thinking about buying a used car in the UK, the Revenue website has a very useful VRT calculator, which calculates the VRT that you will pay when you import a car into the Republic.

All you have to do is specify the make, model, and version of the car (all from drop-down menus), specify the mileage and date of first registration, and it will calculate the VRT liability.  The whole process should take only a minute or two.

The only quibble I have about the VRT calculator is that it is prone to producing nonsensical results.  For the fun of it, I input the details of a 1997 Seat Cordoba 1.4 litre petrol saloon with 225,000 miles on the clock – a car in fact that I used to own. The Revenue calculator produced a VRT bill of €480, on the basis of an “Open Market Selling Price” of €2,000!

Needless to say the €480 bill would be a multiple of the car’s true worth. And if you can find anyone silly enough to give you €2,000 for a 13-year old car with 225,000 miles on the clock, run quickly to your local scrapyard, buy as many clunkers as you can for €50 each, sell the first one to your punter offering €2,000 and then ask him where his friends live.

Then again, the Revenue have probably assumed that not many people want to import clapped-out junk cars from the UK, or anywhere else for that matter. In fairness this is hardly an unreasonable assumption.

That said, if you are importing an older car, it might perhaps be best to review the VRT treatment with a real human being in Revenue, rather than take the VRT calculator’s results as gospel.

Revenue confirm 2010 ROS Tax Return Deadline

April 1, 2010

The Revenue Commissioners announced yesterday that the 31 October filing deadline for 2009 self-assessment tax returns is being extended again this year until Tuesday 16 November, for online returns.

To qualify for this extension, the taxpayer (or their accountant) must file the return using the online ROS system.  In addition, the following tax balances must also be paid online by 16 November, using the ROS system:

  • Preliminary Tax for 2010; and
  • Income Tax balance due for 2009,

The extended deadline does not apply unless:

  • the return is filed on ROS; and
  • the appropriate tax payment is made using ROS.

Otherwise the existing deadline of 31 October applies to both the payment due and the filing of the return.

I also understand that the extended 16 November deadline also applies for the purposes of RAC, AVC and PRSA pension payments, where a taxpayer pays & files via ROS by 16 November next.  Such pension payments, if made by 16 November 2010, can attract backdated tax relief against 2009 tax liabilities.

Again if the taxpayer doesn’t qualify for the 16 November extension, any such pension payments will only attract the tax relief if paid by 31 October next.

For more, see the Revenue announcement.