DEAR MR. MYERS: I recently received an email from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, telling me to unplug my home’s telephones and internet connection for 24 hours beginning at 12:01 a.m. on April 1. The letter states that the FCC will use the time to launch “cyber spiders” to “clean out old emails and spam to make the World Wide Web run more efficiently.” Is this a legitimate request, or is it a prank?
ANSWER: If the fact that your suggested shutdown date is April 1 didn’t set off any bells in your brain, let me ring them for you: It’s April fools’ day.
The FCC doesn’t have any so-called cyber spiders, and it couldn’t use them without your written permission even if it did. I wrote about this misguided prank three or four years ago, although most of the emails or letters back then supposedly came from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Though the bogus email you received involves the internet, some of my readers in America’s coldest areas say that they have received emails and even pre-recorded telephone messages urging them to disconnect their home phones for the next few days so their local phone company can use special heaters to “thoroughly thaw frozen telephone lines.”
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It’s another ruse, apparently based on one from about two decades ago, that instructed homeowners to disconnect their phones because their service-provider was going to blow air through local lines to purge dust that had accumulated over the years. Customers were even told to wrap their phones in plastic bags to prevent the dust from gushing through their handsets and blanketing their floors and furniture.
Though most homeowners don’t fall victim to such ridiculous pranks, one study suggests that as many as 1 million Americans each year still do.
REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: A common prank pulled by some experienced real estate agents on rookies is to leave a written message for the newbie to call back “Myra Mains” for a listing appointment. It usually takes two or three phone calls by the sales-hungry newcomer to figure out that the number is for a funeral home or cemetery.
DEAR MR. MYERS: We bought our first home and the sale closed on March 21. We’re so busy unpacking and fixing the place up that there’s no way we’ll be able to file our federal income-tax return by this month’s deadline. How can we ask for an extension?
ANSWER: It’s easy. Simply fill out Internal Revenue Service Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, by the April 17 deadline. The typical deadline would be on the 15th, but that’s a Sunday. The Internal Revenue Service will be closed that day and also on Monday, April 16, in observance of Emancipation Day.
You can get Form 4868 by calling the agency (800-829-3676) or by downloading it from irs.gov. It will provide a six-month extension to file your federal return, though you will have to pay interest on any taxes that you may owe.
DEAR MR. MYERS: I am 79 years old and my husband is 81. We like the idea of forming the type of basic living trust that you recently wrote about so that our home and other assets could quickly pass to our daughter instead of going through the expensive probate process after we die. Would each of us have to form an individual trust, or would only one be OK?
ANSWER: One would be enough. The two of you would form the trust as “co-trustees,” which would allow both of you to control your jointly owned property while both of you are alive.
When one dies, the deceased’s half-interest in the home and other assets would pass to the surviving co-trustee. And when the survivor later dies, the trust’s property would quickly and automatically pass to your daughter instead of going through costly and time-consuming probate proceedings. Talk to an estate planner or lawyer for details.
David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.