WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s the top complaint to a U.S. Senate hotline for seniors: fraudsters posing as IRS agents, threatening arrests and demanding money.
Treasury Department official Timothy Camus told the Senate Aging Committee on Wednesday that more than 10,000 people have reported falling prey to the so-called “IRS impersonation scam” over the last several years — many of them elderly Americans.
Phillip Hatch, who is 81 and testified before the panel via video, told lawmakers how he received a phone call one day at his home in Portland, Maine. The caller told him there was a mistake on his tax returns and federal marshals were coming to arrest him unless he paid the money. Worried, Hatch did as instructed and went to the local CVS to purchase iTunes cards. He then read the numbers on the backs of the cards to the caller. After four hours on the phone with the caller, Hatch was out $8,000. He told the panel he wishes he hadn’t been “so cooperative.”
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, chair of the committee, says the criminals who prey on seniors are relentless. “They will harass seniors over and over again until they have drained every penny from their life savings,” she said.
Federal officials, from Treasury and the Federal Trade Commission, testified about efforts to combat the fraud on senior Americans.
Last October, more than 50 people were indicted in a scam that involved call centers in India and bilked thousands of victims out of more than $270 million. Camus, with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration office, says it is the largest single domestic law enforcement action to date related to the IRS impersonation scam.
For some time, scammers had been duping victims into getting money orders. More recently, however, Camus says his office has seen a shift to iTunes cards because it’s easier to get the money since the scammers no longer need middlemen to convert the money orders. “They’re now selling the iTunes cards on the third party market and pocketing the money immediately,” Camus said.
The Senate Aging Committee has a hotline for seniors to call about fraud (1-855-303-9470). Last year, the hotline received more than 2,200 calls from people all over the country — more than double the number of calls from 2015. The top complaint was the IRS impersonation scam. That was followed by lottery or sweepstakes scams, in which callers promise a huge lottery prize that can only be awarded if taxes and other fees are sent immediately to the caller.
John Daly has thrown golf clubs during fits of frustration over the course of his wild career. He says his putter going into a lake at a PGA Tour Champions event last week was not one of them.
“If I throw a putter, it’s going to be in two pieces, not one,” Daly said Wednesday. “And it’s going to be 50 yards in the lake, not 5.”
Daly says reports of him throwing his putter into the lake at the Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, Florida, were lacking context.
The two-time major champion said his sciatic nerve was acting up and he probably shouldn’t have played. He decided to withdraw after the seventh hole and while walking off the green, he flipped the putter over his shoulder to his caddie, who wasn’t watching, and the club went into the water.
There was no video of the incident.
A writer for www.linksmagazine.com posted a photo on Twitter of the top of Daly’s putter in the water as fans gathered around for a look. Daly said the thick, foam grip enabled it to float.
“I take responsibility,” Daly said. “I shouldn’t have tossed it.”
He was more distraught at losing the putter, which he described as a 50-year anniversary model of the Ping Answer that company chairman John Solheim gave him. Daly said he called the head pro at The Old Course at Broken Sound to see if he could get it back, but by then someone had already retrieved it.
Daly’s most recent club throw was at Whistling Straits at the 2015 PGA Championship, when he put three balls in the water on the par-3 seventh hole and after hitting the green on the fourth try, he slung his 6-iron into Lake Michigan.
“That was a proper throw,” he said.
Daly finished 71st on the money list last year in his first season on the 50-and-older circuit. His best finish is a tie for 11th. Daly said he had his back worked on and he plans to play in the Chubb Classic this week in Naples, Florida.
NEW YORK (AP) — The Associated Press is teaming up with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education to expand its coverage of science, medicine and health journalism.
The initial collaboration includes two pilot projects. With the first project, AP will create and distribute a series of stories, profiles, videos and graphics focusing on genetic medicine. The second project will look at a variety of science topics in the news that will help readers stay current on the latest science research and make informed decisions on topics ranging from the environment, to public health.
“This collaboration brings wider attention and new storytelling tools to evidence-based, factual science,” AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said.
HHMI, based in Chevy Chase, Maryland, supports the advancement of biomedical research and science education. The organization’s origin dates back to the late 1940s when a small group of physicians and scientists advised Hughes. The medical institute was created in 1953.
The primary purpose of the organization is to promote human knowledge in the field of the basic sciences and its effective application for the benefit of mankind, according to its charter. In fiscal 2016, it provided $663 million in U.S. biomedical research and $86 million in grants and other support for science education.
HHMI’s Department of Science Education, the largest private, nonprofit supporter of science education in the country, will provide funding for the AP projects. The funding will allow AP to increase the amount of science-related stories it provides to news organizations and add more journalists to support its current science reporting team. HHMI will also offer expert background information and educational material.
While the AP will receive funding and utilize HHMI’s expertise when crafting its content, it maintains full editorial control of published material.
“We’re proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the world’s most respected news organization to ensure that the best evidence around important scientific topics is presented clearly and distributed widely,” said Sean B. Carroll, vice president of HHMI’s Department of Science Education.
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union and Canada on Wednesday cast their newly-approved trade deal as a much-needed beacon for cooperation, with the EU criticizing President Donald Trump’s protectionist bent as a threat to the continent’s prosperity.
After about seven years of negotiations, the EU parliament approved on Wednesday a deal with Canada that will eliminate most tariffs for business between the EU’s economy of half a billion people and Canada’s 35 million.
Though critics claim it will mainly help large companies, proponents say it will create jobs and wealth. And, they argue, it is a sorely needed reminder of the world’s capacity to cooperate at a time when political forces, even within the EU, want to bring back national barriers to migration and trade.
“This is the vote that the world was waiting today to hear — whether there will be a progressive voice in the world,” said Canadian International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne during a visit to Brussels coinciding with the approval. “Canada and Europe, I am glad to say, came up to this challenge and sent a very strong signal to the world.”
The future of global trade was put in doubt after Trump nixed a trade deal with Pacific countries, threatened to get tough on China and renegotiate a free trade pact with Mexico and Canada. In Europe, political parties opposed to the EU’s message of shared markets and open borders for workers are doing well in the polls ahead of elections in countries like the Netherlands and France.
The EU parliament approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada by a wide margin of 408 for, 254 against with 33 abstentions, allowing for its provisional entry into force as early as April.
At the same time as the EU lawmakers were voting, the bloc’s executive also took aim at Trump.
“While we do not yet know the details of the policies the Trump administration will pursue, we do know that their instincts will be protectionist more than ever,” said Pierre Moscovici, the EU’s economic and financial affairs chief.
“That means that the international trading and security architecture to which we owe our unprecedented peace and prosperity is also threatened as never before. So let us mobilize” Moscovici said at the University of Athens.
The belligerent mood was also palpable at the EU’s legislature in Strasbourg, France.
“President Trump has given us another good reason to intensify our links with Canada — while Trump introduces tariffs, we are not only tearing them down but also setting the highest progressive standards,” said Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the EU parliament’s ALDE liberal group.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to address the EU legislature on Thursday.
The EU vote should close the drawn-out approval process across the 28 member states, where some governments and legislations had tried to modify or scupper the deal. The Netherlands could conceivably still hold up the deal if it demands an advisory national referendum.
Trade between the EU and Canada amounts to more than 60 billion euros ($63 billion) a year, and the EU expects the deal to boost this by 20 percent by removing almost all tariffs.
Critics say it could dilute standards for food safety or labor rights by giving more power to big corporations.
Outside the EU parliament, demonstrating activists were vocal about their worries about the deal.
“What will happen is more and more deregulation, less social protection for citizens, for small companies, for independent workers,” said Maika Fernandes, who had traveled from Alicante, southern Spain. “No one will be able to compete with the multinationals. It will be a financial Europe that will favor only big multinationals.”
EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom tried to assuage those concerns saying it “will not change food safety standards or any other EU requirements. Only the EU institutions can do that.”
The deal was approved because three of the four major groups in the EU parliament backed it — the EPP Christian Democrats, the ECR Conservatives and the ALDE liberals. The far-right and far-left and a sizable part of the socialist S&D group opposed it.
France’s hard-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon said he was shocked such a free trade could still make it at a time of high unemployment and crisis. “It is the last of these old treaties from the twentieth century, with a dose of shaggy liberalism, with a totally deregulated free trade. And many people in this parliament seem to find it remarkable, which is appalling to me,” he said.
Becatoros wrote from Athens. AP video journalist Oleg Cetinic contributed from Strasbourg, France.
Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at http://twitter.com/rcasert , Elena Becatoros at http://twitter.com/ElenaBec .
JERUSALEM (AP) — It was supposed to be a feel-good visit by a group of professional football players to give a boost to image-conscious Israel.
But in an embarrassing fumble by the Israeli government, only five of 11 NFL players in the delegation showed up after being blitzed by Palestinian activists opposed to the visit.
Israel’s ministry for strategic affairs and public diplomacy issued a press release after the Super Bowl boasting that the visit would bring “influencers” who would serve as “goodwill ambassadors” when they returned home.
The announcement led Seattle Seahawks defense lineman Michael Bennett to pull out. In a lengthy Twitter post, he accused the government of trying to use him for PR purposes and cited sympathy for the Palestinians.
“I will not be used in such a manner,” he wrote, adding that he still intends to visit Israel, but only on a trip that includes stops in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to meet Palestinians.
Citing the example of Muhammad Ali, and the late boxing legend’s support for the Palestinians, Bennett said he too wants to be a “voice for the voiceless.”
“I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel,” he said.
Several others players followed suit, and at the delegation’s first official stop on Tuesday at Rambam Hospital in Haifa, only five players were present, said hospital spokesman David Ratner. He said the players were given a tour of the hospital and shown a presentation of a device developed by one of Rambam’s researchers that detects concussions in real time.
Among those who also dropped out were Bennett’s brother Martellus, of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills, Seahawks’ Cliff Avril, San Francisco 49er Carlos Hyde and Justin Forsett of the Denver Broncos.
Public Diplomacy Minister Gilad Erdan, whose office spearheaded the visit, had enthusiastically promoted it, saying the NFL players would help boost Israel’s image and counter the influence of an international boycott movement.
“I hope that, through their visit, they will get a balanced picture of Israel, the opposite from the false incitement campaign that is being waged against Israel around the world,” he said. “I hope that the players will present the beautiful face of Israel to their tens of millions of fans in the United States.”
But since Bennett’s post on Saturday, the ministry has gone silent. After promising various updates on the delegation, Revital Yakin-Karkovsky, the executive director for communications and strategy in the ministry, said Wednesday it would not comment on the visit. The Tourism Ministry and the nonprofit America’s Voices in Israel organization, which were also involved in the planning, have also distanced themselves.
The five players who did make the trip — Delanie Walker of the Tennessee Titans, Mychal Kendricks of the Philadelphia Eagles, Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints, Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals and Dan Williams of the Oakland Raiders — have also noticeably kept quiet on social media.
The only evidence of the visit is an Instagram video of Kendricks from a local restaurant, where he sings along to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s get it on” and asks locals to say hello to the camera in Hebrew.
An open letter published in The Nation that was signed by pro-Palestinian activists and supporters such as Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover and Alice Walker had urged the players to skip the trip.
“The Israeli government sought to use these NFL players, who have tremendous platforms due to their popularity, in an effort to whitewash Israel’s ongoing denial of Palestinian rights,” said Yousef Munayyer, director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, who initiated the open letter. “It was heartening to see so many players choose not to sit on the sidelines but instead to stand on the right side of history.”
Follow Heller on Twitter at www.twitter.com/aronhellerap
PARIS (AP) — France’s presidential race this year is upending every political assumption that has governed the country for decades.
And now Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old former economy minister who is running an independent, centrist campaign, has a real chance to become France’s next president in the country’s two-round April-May vote.
Among the startling events: an incumbent president is not running. His prime minister did not win the Socialist primary. The far right is surging. The conservative front-runner who vowed to slash government spending has seen his chances plummet after giving his wife and children well-paid jobs for years.
Jealous rivals call Macron a guru with no substance. Macron, who plans to present a budget for the five-year presidential term next week and a platform later, mostly promises the French a better future — and that may be enough.
“Some people think we are a sect. Welcome,” Macron joked in front of hundreds of supporters at the Bobino theater in Paris.
Recent polls show Macron could be among the two top contenders to emerge from the April 23 ballot and advance to the presidential runoff on May 7, where he would be in a good position to win against his expected opponent, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front.
A former investment banker with impressive academic credentials, Macron is young, outspoken and sometimes theatrical. He speaks fluent English and is very familiar with social media. Macron backs free-market, pro-European policies and litters his speeches with references to mythology, philosophy or literature.
Macron became Socialist President Francois Hollande’s economic adviser in 2012 and two years later, his economy minister. Last year he launched his own centrist political movement En Marche (“In Motion”).
Conservative rival Francois Fillon and far-right politician Florian Philippot of the National Front recently compared Macron to a “guru.”
Fillon, the former favorite, has seen his popularity sink following revelations about well-paid — and possibly fake — political jobs that he gave his wife, son and daughter. Fillon admits the practice was legal at the time but is “unacceptable” now. Prosecutors are investigating.
Fillon has criticized Macron’s “political adventure without a program” but Macron told the Journal du Dimanche that politics are “mystical.”
“It’s an error to think the program is at the core of a campaign,” he said.
Macron has proposed to cut taxes for businesses, wants to reduce by half the number of pupils per class in poor neighborhoods. He traveled to Algeria, a former French colony, this week to boost his international stature. He has also visited the United States, Germany and Lebanon in the last few months and will hold a rally in London next week.
In a video on Twitter, Macron urged researchers, entrepreneurs and engineers working on climate change in the U.S. to leave for France.
“You are welcome … we like innovation, we want innovative people!” he said in English, in a bid to capitalize on U.S. President Donald Trump’s doubts about global warming.
Macron has also laughed at rumors about his sexuality. He said having a gay affair while also being married would come as news to his wife, Brigitte.
“Since she shares my life from morning to night, her only question is how, physically, I would manage,” he joked at the Bobino theater.
Brigitte Macron-Trogneux, who was his secondary school theater teacher, is 24 years older than her husband. While French politicians traditionally keep their private lives private, she acts more like an American political spouse, attending her husband’s rallies and public events. The couple appears hand-in-hand on the front page of celebrity magazine Paris Match for the fourth time.
“You’ll be hearing the worst things about me. It’s unpleasant, it’s discourteous and sometimes it’s hurtful,” Macron told his supporters. “I am who I am. I’ve never had something to hide.”
The polling institute Ifop says Macron tends to be popular among educated people from the upper and middle-class — and unpopular in the working class.
This illustrates the dividing line between the winners and the losers of globalization, wrote Jerome Fourquet of Ifop.
“By designating each other as their main rival, Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron pursue a common interest: substitute the traditional confrontation between the left and the right by this new division,” Fourquet wrote.
Macron calls the divide “progressives against conservatives” while Le Pen “the pro-globalization against the patriots,” he said.
Political scientist Thomas Guenole says Macron’s rising popularity has been aided by the media. Last year, the proportion of articles about him in French newspapers was oversized compared to his relatively low profile, Guenole told The Associated Press.
“Nobody can detail his program … yet people have sympathy for him,” he said, adding that what he called Macron’s “doped” popularity is likely to lead to real results in the presidential election.