Also in this issue...

Sister Cities Join Forces!
The four organizations that represent Peoria's four sister cities—Friends of Friedrichshafen, Friends of Benxi, Friends of Clonmel and Friends of Aytou—have big plans this month. For the first time ever, they are teaming up to host Peoria Sister Cities International Night.

"This is very exciting that all the sister cities are working together to make this event possible,” says Diane Joseph, president of the Friends of Aytou. “What a great way to demonstrate all of our diverse ethnic cultures!"

This inaugural event will take place on April 21, 2017 at the Itoo Hall, 4909 W. Farmington Road in Peoria, beginning at 6pm… and lasting as long as the food holds out. The evening will follow a "taste of" format featuring many of your favorite foods from Germany, China, Ireland and Lebanon. A raffle for three exciting prizes—a 55" TV, an “ethnic beverage wheelbarrow,” and a board of gift certificates (each worth $500)—will be held along with music and cultural exhibits from all four countries.

Entertainment will include cultural music from each of the sister cities, and the WTVP series, The New Peorians, will be running continuously in a side room. Admission is $5, food tickets are $1, and a cash bar will be available. See old friends—and meet new ones—at the first Peoria Sister Cities International Night! Visit sistercitiesofpeoria.org for more information.


Tax Fraud Security Tips
Identity theft is often the first step leading to tax fraud. If scammers have stolen your personal information, they may already have filed a tax return in your name… and collected a refund without you even knowing it!

To help you steer clear of tax return fraud, the Illinois CPA Society outlines some common tactics used to deceive people into providing their personal information. This includes spoofing caller ID readouts to make it appear the call is coming from the IRS, as well as “phishing” scams, where regular mail or emails asking for your information contain official IRS logos and are made to look real, but are not.

Initial contact by the IRS usually happens in a letter through regular mail. Besides never contacting taxpayers by email, text or social media to request or confirm personal or financial information, the IRS does not:

  • Use scare tactics, including threats of arrest, confiscation of professional licenses or even deportation to get you to make a payment;
  • Call you about your tax bill without first sending you a bill in the mail;
  • Demand you pay taxes owed and not allow you to question or appeal the amount;
  • Require that you pay in a certain way (prepaid debit card or specific type of payment);
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone;
  • Threaten to bring in police or other agencies to arrest you for not paying; or
  • Threaten you with a lawsuit.

To help minimize the risk of tax fraud:

  • Monitor your credit report for unusual activity;
  • Do not use public Wi-Fi to send private information; and
  • Shred old financial documents.

During tax season, having your tax forms delivered to you electronically and filing returns early can also help thwart criminals.

Identitytheft.gov is the go-to resource for anyone who needs to begin the process of reporting identity theft. Additional information is available at irs.gov. If you believe you’re the target of a phishing scam, forward the email to phishing@irs.gov. Your local CPA can also assist in helping you recover from tax fraud. Visit icpas.org to find a CPA near you.


Illinois Consumer Complaints
Last year, the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan received 23,735 consumer complaints—including more than 2,700 involving consumer debt issues like mortgage lending, abusive debt collection practices and predatory payday loans. Identity theft was the second most-reported issue, with 2,391 complaints, and education-related complaints now rank sixth, reflecting the growing student loan debt crisis. The top 10 complaints in 2016 were:

  1. Consumer debt (mortgages, collection agencies, banks): 2,783 complaints
  2. Identity theft (government document fraud, credit cards, utilities, data breaches): 2,391 complaints
  3. Promotions/schemes (phone scams, investment schemes, lottery scams, phishing): 2,387 complaints
  4. Construction/home improvement (remodeling, roofs/gutters, heating/cooling, plumbing): 2,094 complaints
  5. Telecommunications (telemarketing, cable/satellite TV, phone service/repairs, cellphones): 1,851 complaints
  6. Education (for-profit schools, student loan debt, loan counseling): 1,691 complaints
  7. Used auto sales/motor vehicles (as-is used cars, financing, warranties): 1,648 complaints
  8. Internet/mail order products (internet/catalog purchases, TV/radio advertising): 955 complaints
  9. Motor vehicle/non-warranty repair (collision, engines, oil changes/tune-ups): 677 complaints
  10. New auto sales/motor vehicles (financing, defects, advertising): 668 complaints.

To learn how you can file a complaint, visit illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/consumers/filecomplaint.html.



Top Five Savings Bond Tax Benefits
Before turning your nose up on U.S. savings bonds, consider that the generally low returns can often be offset by many favorable tax advantages—especially for those owning older paper versions. Here’s why:

  1. No state or local taxes. U.S. savings bonds are free from state and local taxes, but they are subject to federal income and estate taxes under most circumstances.
  2. Defer reporting interest income until the bond is redeemed or reaches final maturity. When redeeming paper bonds, a 1099-INT will be issued for all interest earned (regardless of prior interest reporting). When a savings bond reaches final maturity, the interest earned amount should be included (unless previously reported) on a federal income tax return, even if it has not been redeemed. Paper savings bonds are not automatically redeemed when they reach final maturity—but electronic bonds are. Investors will need to print the 1099-INT from their TreasuryDirect account, as paper copies are not mailed for e-bonds.
  3. Ability to report interest earnings annually. By choosing to report annual interest earnings, investors can avoid having to report a potentially large amount of interest when the bonds are redeemed or reach final maturity. This is beneficial to individuals in limited income brackets. But once interest is reported annually, you must continue reporting it every year thereafter. Upon redemption, the 1099-INT will include all interest earned for the bond, regardless of any previously reported amounts. Keep copies of all prior federal income tax returns as proof of prior reporting.
  4. Earnings are exempt from federal income taxes when used for qualified higher education expenses. Bonds purchased after 1989 apply, and did not have to be earmarked for the education tax exclusion at the time of purchase. The full tax exclusion is also available to single taxpayers and married persons filing jointly with specific annual income amounts. Additional criteria that must be met can be found at irs.gov/publications/p970/ch10.html.
  5. Series EE or I bonds purchased in a child’s name. If bonds were issued in a child’s name and the child is still a dependent at redemption, you may be able to pay taxes on the interest earnings at the child’s rate. In certain cases, the child’s rate could be zero, depending on annual income limits set by the IRS.

Source: SavingsBonds.com


No Laughing Matter
As the Illinois budget impasse enters its 21st month, the state’s annual financial report, released by Comptroller Susana Mendoza in March, paints a dismal picture of decline:

  • Illinois’ total net deficit increased by $5.7 billion—from $121 billion in June 2015 to $126.7 billion as of June 2016. The majority of that liability is a pension shortfall of $116 billion.
  • The General Fund’s deficit grew to $9.6 billion in FY 2016—a dramatic increase of $2.7 billion from FY 2015. The deficit has grown 43 percent since FY 2014;
  • Illinois’ total outstanding bonded debt was $30.7 billion as of June 2016. The State paid $1.5 billion in interest on its borrowing in FY 2016;
  • Spending on health and social service programs for the state’s neediest residents dropped by $834 million in FY 2016;
  • Illinois now spends more on debt service ($3.6 billion) than on public protection and justice ($3.1 billion).

Not having a budget is not a laughing matter. Visit lolillinois.com and join the campaign to pressure our leaders in Springfield to do their jobs. #LandOfLincoln #NotALaughingMatter


Stripes vs. Chips
Despite generating just 23 percent of global credit/debit card purchases, the United States accounts for 38.7 percent ($8.45 billion) of credit/debit card fraud losses worldwide, according to the Nilson Report, a leading industry newsletter. The best defense against fraud, the report notes, is the use of “chip cards,” also known as EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) cards—the standard in most parts of the world for over a decade. So why are chip cards such an improvement over the old magnetic-stripe cards?

Magnetic stripes contain sensitive data—your credit card number and expiration date—that never changes. If your card is stolen or the system is hacked, your data is easily replicable. On the other hand, EMV chips create a unique, one-time code every time the card is used—so if a hacker or thief attempts to use information from that transaction again, it will be denied. And that’s why, today, we dip the chip, rather than swipe the stripe.


From the Archives...
Since 1989, iBi magazine has told the stories of Greater Peoria—and those who helped shape it. Our online archives at peoriamagazines.com are a treasure trove of local history, business, culture and more.


Green Starts at Home
Help keep Peoria clean, green and beautiful by volunteering at the Great American Cleanup! Your business or organization is invited to take part in the nation’s largest annual community improvement event on April 27, 2017.

Just recruit a team of volunteers and identify an area in need of cleaning up. It could be your neighborhood, a street or alley, a local park, a parking lot near your business… anywhere litter has collected. (Notify Keep Peoria Beautiful of your target area by registering on or before April 27th.) On cleanup day, pick up your complementary supplies—trash bags, yard waste bags and gloves—from 8 to 10am at Glen Oak Learning Center, 2100 N. Wisconsin, then head to your location and get to work!

The City of Peoria Community Development Department will supply dumpsters and volunteers to enhance neighborhood cleanup efforts. To learn more, call (309) 494-8940 or email tacquah@peoriagov.org. Registration forms and additional details can be found at keeppeoriabeautiful.org/great-american-cleanup.


“Ugly” Produce Now Available

To help combat the nation’s food waste issue, Hy-Vee recently began offering so-called “ugly” produce—“cosmetically challenged” fruits and vegetables that traditionally go unsold due to industry standards. This unique line of Misfits produce provides customers more variety at a lower cost—a 30-percent discount, on average—while helping to reduce waste.

“The produce tastes the same and is of the same high quality—it just looks different,” explains John Griesenbrock, Hy-Vee vice president of produce/HealthMarkets. “As the saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover.” Misfits produce varies weekly based on availability; look for Misfits bins and signage in the produce section. iBi

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