20 Dec

Today on WalletPop

Abusive debt collectors sent a loud (and expensive) message – A collection agency using illegal threats and racial slurs is handed a huge judgment against it by a court.

A new and improved ‘Do Not Call’ coming soon to a dinnertime near you? – Proposed changes to the list could make it so that consumers don’t have to renew their registration every 5 years.

Using the debt snowball concept? How about adding snowflaking? – Find ways to add a little bit to your debt paydown each month.

An anonymous airline executive gives up the goods about cheap airfare – Are airlines cheating you out of those sale prices they advertised?

19 Dec

Fraud prevention podcast

I recently recorded a podcast for AllBusiness on fraud prevention in small businesses. Chris Bjorklund and I sat down and talked about some of the risks and ways to prevent fraud in small companies.

The podcast covers these issues, in addition to others:

  • Simple internal controls that are often overlooked
  • Components to be included in a code of ethics
  • Basic fraud prevention techniques
  • How big frauds start small
  • Profile of an employee who commits fraud
  • Tips for small business owners to reduce fraud: Read More
18 Dec

Apparently, our government isn’t very accountable

The Government Accountability Office has issued its 2007 report on the U.S. Government. In short, it appears that the government isn’t doing real well at keeping track of its assets nor of the money it spends.

Just imagine if the U.S. Government was a public company subject to Sarbanes-Oxley rules. Yikes!

In part the report states:

A significant number of material weaknesses (fn5) related to financial systems, fundamental recordkeeping and financial reporting, and incomplete documentation continued to (1) hamper the federal government’s ability to reliably report a significant portion of its assets, liabilities, costs, and other related information; (2) affect the federal government’s ability to reliably measure the full cost as well as the financial and nonfinancial performance of certain programs and activities; (3) impair the federal government’s ability to adequately safeguard significant assets and properly record various transactions; and (4) hinder the federal government from having reliable financial information to operate in an economical, efficient, and effective manner. We found the following:

  • Certain material weaknesses in financial reporting and other limitations on the scope of our work (fn6) resulted in conditions that continued to prevent us from expressing an opinion on the accompanying accrual basis consolidated financial statements for the fiscal years ended September 30, 2007 and 2006. (fn7)
  • The 2007 Statement of Social Insurance (fn8) is presented fairly, in all material respects, in conformity with GAAP; we disclaim an opinion on the 2006 Statement of Social Insurance.(fn9)
  • The federal government did not maintain effective internal control over financial reporting (including safeguarding assets) and compliance with significant laws and regulations as of September 30, 2007.

(fn5) A material weakness is a significant deficiency, or combination of significant deficiencies, that results in more than a remote likelihood that a material misstatement of the financial statements will not be prevented or detected. A significant deficiency is a control deficiency, or combination of control deficiencies, that adversely affects the entity’s ability to initiate, authorize, record, process, or report financial data reliably in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles such that there is more than a remote likelihood that a misstatement of the entity’s financial statements that is more than inconsequential will not be prevented or detected. A control deficiency exists when the design or operation of a control does not allow management or employees, in the normal course of performing their assigned functions, to prevent or detect misstatements on a timely basis.

(fn6) Three major impediments continue to prevent us from rendering an opinion on the accrual basis consolidated financial statements: (1) serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense, (2) the federal government’s inability to adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between federal agencies, and (3) the federal government’s ineffective process for preparing the consolidated financial statements.

(fn7) We previously reported that certain material weaknesses prevented us from expressing an opinion on the consolidated financial statements of the U.S. government for fiscal years 1997 through 2006.

(fn8) The valuation date is January 1 for all social insurance programs except the Black Lung program, for which the valuation date is September 30.

(fn9) We disclaimed an opinion on the fiscal year 2006 consolidated financial statements, including the Statement of Social Insurance.

18 Dec

Notice to Americans: Slavery Has Been Outlawed For a Few Years Now

A millionaire couple in New York has been convicted on charges related to keeping two slaves in their home. Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani and Varsha Mahender Sabhnani were both convicted of 12 federal counts of forced labor, conspiracy, involuntary servitude, and harboring aliens.

The Sabhnanis apparently kept these women as slaves, paying them $100 to $150 a month, which the workers sent to their families in Indonesia. They were subjected to 18 hour work days, starvation, beatings, slashings, and other unusual forms of abuse. Read More

17 Dec

School administrator is quitting and wants a $230,000 going away gift

Ummm… NO. It’s not in your contract. Buh-bye. But unfortunately, the school board is actually entertaining her request.

Karen Petric, the 54 year-old superintendent of Witnall Schools wants to retire early. Her contract says that if she stays until summer 2010, she gets free health insurance until she’s eligible for Medicare. She wants that coverage NOW, and that would cost about $230,000.

Under her contract, those insurance benefits for Petric aren’t available now, and are capped at $90,000. So not only does she want to start collecting early, she wants that limit to go away.

She says she’s quitting because of a “safety issue,” which is widely believed to be related to a situation with a former school administrator.  She has also made mention of “stress” and something to do with the school board.

Petric may have been a good superintendent, but a deal is a deal. Her deal says she’s not eligible if she quits now, and that’s the way it should stay.

Politicians can’t keep acting as though taxpayer money is “free money” to be dished out for any little whim. They also can’t justify spending money like this by saying, “Well it only costs ____ cents per taxpayer.” These types of things should cost zero cents. We should be rolling back government, not spending more and more and more.

14 Dec

Woman gets a huge judgment against Equifax

Equifax, one of the three big credit bureaus thought they could mess with Angela P. Williams. She said she spent over ten years trying to fix her credit records after her identity was confused with someone else.

Williams took Equifax to court, and a jury awarded her $219,000 in actual damages plus $2.7 million in punitive damages earlier this month. And it just so happens this is the largest verdict ever entered against Equifax.

The credit reporting agency was apparently extremely uncooperative in correcting Angela’s credit file. Her lawyers proved that the agency kept confusing her with someone with a similar name and bad credit. She kept disputing the errors, but thy never really got resolved.

The lawsuit was filed in 2003, but while Williams was waiting for the case to be resolved, she was denied credit and wasn’t able to apply for a mortgage.

Of course, the company has said it will appeal.

13 Dec

It’s a sad, sad day

Over on WalletPop, I posted about the story of Trig’s Minocqua Shell. This week, an employee made a mistake when closing the store. He was supposed to change the price of gas to $3.30. Instead, he changed it to 33 cents a gallon. He closed the store for the night, but the gas pumps were left on for anyone who wanted to purchase with a credit card at the pump.

Consumers started filling up their tanks like there was no tomorrow, calling friends and family to come fill up too. The police noticed the commotion and called the gas station’s manager, who put a stop to it.

All told, the owner of the station lost over $1,700, the difference between the price that should have been used and the erroneous price.

Why so sad? There are about 200 comments and counting on the thread. And it seems that the majority of commenters think it was okay for the consumers to fill up at a price they knew was wrong, that the business owner deserved to get screwed, and that we should hope things like this happen more often.

In their heart of hearts, I know these people know what was done was wrong. I think those who filled up at the wrong price should go back to the station and pay the difference. I doubt that anyone will. And the idea that people are encouraging this dishonesty…. sad.

12 Dec

Microsoft CEO gets excited

While doing some random internet research, I came across some amusing videos of Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO. The guy tends to get a little excited at Microsoft events, especially when they involve the developers. Enjoy.

Steve Ballmer a little sweaty:

Steve Ballmer going crazy (yes this is for real):

Steve Ballmer, the remix:

11 Dec

Wisconsin. Winter. Snow.

I just heard the most ridiculous thing on the news. They were, of course, talking about today’s snowstorm. The news reporter said that the City of Milwaukee had some “contingency funds set aside” for snow removal… but that with the snow storm a couple of weeks ago and with today’s snow, that money is gone.

HELLO!!!! We live in Wisconsin. It snows. Routinely. You mean to tell me that this isn’t factored into the city’s budget?

Of course it is. And my guess is that these tearful words from city employees are just setting the stage for next year’s tax increase.