K. W. “Hutch” Hutchinson, CPA, CFP®

Providing solutions to your taxing problems

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Office Depot computer scans gave fake results

Federal Trade Commission

FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION

Consumer Information

March 27, 2019by Bridget SmallConsumer Education Specialist

Most of us manage basic computer safety on our own. We keep security software and firewalls up to date, and ignore pesky pop-up ads about computer health. Many of us would gladly take advantage of a free computer tune-up from a big-name retailer. We wouldn’t suspect the tune-up might be a tech support scam.

But according to a recent FTC complaint, that’s exactly what happened at Office Depot and OfficeMax stores. Many customers who took their computers in for a free “PC Health Check” at Office Depot or OfficeMax stores between 2009 and November 2016 were told their computers had malware symptoms or infections — but that wasn’t true. The FTC says Office Depot and OfficeMax ran PC Health Check, a diagnostic scan program created and licensed by Support.com, that tricked those consumers into thinking their computers had symptoms of malware or actual “infections,” even though the scan hadn’t found any such issues. Many consumers who got false scan results bought computer diagnostic and repair services from Office Depot and OfficeMax that cost up to $300. Suppport.com completed the services and got a cut of each purchase.

Office Depot, Inc. and Support.com, Inc. have both agreed to proposed settlements with the FTC to resolve the FTC’s allegations. This press release has details about the terms of the proposed settlements. The companies will be prohibited from making various deceptive claims and will also turn over a total of $35 million to the FTC, which the FTC expects to use for refunds. If the FTC can give refunds, we will publish another blog with details.

The FTC has information to help you manage security online. Read about ways to keep your computer security up to date. Learn how to avoid, discover, and get rid of malware that may download viruses onto your computer or cause it to crash. If you find malware was installed on your computer, you can report it to the FTC at www.ftc.gov/complaint.

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Business taxpayers should take another look at their estimated tax payments

Taxpayers who pay quarterly estimated tax payments may want to revisit the amount they pay. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changed the way most taxpayers calculate their tax. These taxpayers include those with substantial income not subject to withholding, such as small business owners and self-employed individuals. The tax reform changes include:

  • Revised tax rates and brackets
  • New and revised business deductions
  • Limiting or discontinuing deductions
  • Increasing the standard deduction
  • Removing personal exemptions
  • Increasing the child tax credit


As a result of these changes, many taxpayers may need to raise or lower the amount of tax they pay each quarter through estimated taxes.

Alternatively, many taxpayers who receive income not subject to withholding, but who also receive income as an employee, may be able to avoid the requirement to make estimated tax payments by having more tax taken out of their pay. These taxpayers can use the Withholding Calculator on IRS.gov to perform a Paycheck Checkup. Doing so now will help avoid an unexpected year-end tax bill and possibly a penalty in the future. 

Taxpayers with more complex situations might need to use Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax, instead.  This includes people who owe self-employment tax, the alternative minimum tax, or tax on unearned income from dependents, and people with capital gains or dividends.

Form 1040-ES can also help taxpayers figure these payments simply and accurately. The estimated tax package includes a quick rundown of key tax changes, income tax rate schedules for 2019 and a useful worksheet for figuring the right amount of tax to pay.

Estimated tax penalty relief
The IRS is waiving the estimated tax penalty for many taxpayers whose 2018 federal income tax withholding and estimated tax payments fell short of their total tax liability for the year. This relief is designed to help taxpayers who were unable to properly adjust their withholding and estimated tax payments to reflect an array of changes under TCJA.

The IRS will generally waive the penalty for any taxpayer who paid at least 85 percent of their total tax liability during the year through federal income tax withholding, quarterly estimated tax payments or a combination of the two. The usual percentage threshold is 90 percent to avoid a penalty. For more information about the penalty and requesting the waiver, see Form 2210 and its instructions.

Separately, farmers and fishermen qualify for a waiver if they file their 2018 tax return and pay all taxes due by April 15, 2019; April 17 for residents of Maine and Massachusetts. The usual deadline is March 1.