How hot is the housing market? Well, a 5-bed, 4-bath home in Fairfax, Virginia, sold within a week and over its $800k asking price — despite the fact that strangers live in the basement, which buyers weren’t allowed to view.
In today’s email:
Free tax filing: Turns out it’s not so free after all.
Chart: Dang flabbit, spam is on the rise.
NFTs: Can the blockchain make it easier to buy a home?
Around the web: Common misconceptions, how to block schedule, a wikiHow guessing game, and more neat internet finds.
🎧 On the go? Listen to today’s 10-minute podcast to hear Rob and Jacob tackle America’s ridiculously annoying spam call problem, Biden’s new TikTokers, real-world NFT-able houses, and more.
The Big Idea
The trouble with TurboTax
Did you know the average American spends ~13 hours and $240 filing taxes? Ugh.
Among tax prep services, Intuit’s TurboTax is king, holding 73% of the market share as of May 2021.
But the FTC and government officials claim TurboTax has been scamming us.
When free isn’t free
In March, the FTC sued Intuit, accusing it of deceptive ads for free tax filing — like this one that says “free” a bunch.
In reality, TurboTax’s free option is only available for some taxpayers, the complaint argues. For example, It doesn’t include anyone filing 1099s — so no gig workers.
People who start their “free” return enter info before being told they must upgrade, which can cost ~$60 to $119+.
But for 70% of US taxpayers…
… filing should be free, 1099s and all.
Back in 2002, the IRS made a deal known as the IRS Free File Program. It wouldn’t develop its own competing service if tax software companies offered free prep to low- and middle-income taxpayers.
This year, that’s an adjusted gross income of $73k.
But participation has historically been low — in 2018, ~3m of the ~104m eligible taxpayers took advantage.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Katie Porter, and Rep. Brad Sherman sent Intuit CEO Sasan K. Goodarzi a letter on Monday accusing Intuit of lobbying for the Free File program, then “scamming taxpayers into paying” anyhow by:
Obscuring the Free File program
Changing its name and landing page to create confusion
Funneling users into paid products
Though the IRS changed the deal in 2019 to allow the creation of its own service, it still doesn’t have one. And Intuit quit the program in 2021.
Intuit plans to fight the FTC, saying its claims are “not credible,” and that its campaigns have led to increased awareness about free filing.
Meanwhile, the letter demands TurboTax answer several questions about its practices, while also calling attention to the Tax Filing Simplification Act.
It was 1st introduced in 2016, so it hasn’t exactly moved along, but it would direct the IRS to create a simple filing system that would let many taxpayers forgo tax prep altogether.
BTW:ProPublica has been reporting on this for years. Check out its extensive work here.
It’s back: Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza, that is, which disappeared amid pandemic cuts in 2020. The fan-fave debuted in 1985 as the “Pizzazz Pizza.” #ecommerce-retail
Finished compost smells better and emits fewer greenhouse gases than rotting garbage. But The Verge explores one enduring problem: fruit stickers. #clean-energy
Holoportation? Flight surgeon Dr. Josef Schmid appeared on the ISS, but remained on Earth. How? Holoportation, a mixed reality tech that NASA says it will use for private conferences and VIP astronaut visits. #emerging-tech
Climate-friendly crypto? A new model called “proof of stake” could be the key to crypto mining that doesn’t harm the environment. It works like a raffle, with an algorithm doling out crypto. #fintech-crypto
Union station: Employees at the Apple store in NYC’s Grand Central Terminal are collecting signatures to unionize, a movement also sweeping Starbucks cafes and Amazon warehouses. #big-tech
Oh great, spam is on the rise
Anyone else have 15 voicemails about how the FBI is looking into their car’s extended warranty? Juliet said she hasn’t had a car in 7 years, yet that’s her No. 1 spam call.
How about spam texts? The average American got ~42 of those in March.
If it wasn’t clear, the spam business is booming, with spam texts and calls up 58% and 32%, respectively, in 2021, per RoboKiller. Some other numbers:
In 2020, the FCC saw a 146% increase in text message complaints.
There are instances of people getting spammed into FaceTime group calls.
Some are getting spammed by their own phone numbers.
As a result, RoboKiller estimates Americans have been swindled out of $10.1B by spam texts, and $30.3B by calls.
Is anyone… working on this?
Kinda. In 2021, the FCC worked with carriers to implement the STIR/SHAKEN technological framework — literally inspired byJames Bond — to enhance caller ID authentication, but to mixed success. More recently, the FCC began focusing on robotexts.
Bonus: Here’s a funny clip about a comedian’s extremely detailed response to a spammer.
Home on the Blockchain
Are NFTs the future of home ownership?
The homebuying process can take a village.
Real estate agents, mortgage brokers, and title companies are just a few of the players that move the process along. One real estate developer thinks crypto can help.
… the buyer purchases the home from the seller, and works with a title company to ensure the title (i.e., the legal right to own the property) is valid, and to insure it. Once the title changes hands, the county recorder’s office updates its records.
But with this house, it’s different:
The title is owned by an LLC.
To take ownership of the home, the buyer purchases NFT tokens that equate to the home’s total value (currently listed at $4m).
The purchase takes place on a smart contract on the Ethereum network.
Wilkes believes smart contracts can save buyers and sellers time and money by removing the need for title companies.
Since purchases appear publicly on the blockchain, validating ownership of the home no longer requires scouring public records, and the ability to purchase the home through tokens means faster transactions.
Before you list your house as an NFT…
… there are risks. First, the LLC will remain on the title in perpetuity, making it unclear who has the legal right to ownership of the home. Second, the process is so new, there’s little precedent for enforcing the terms of the smart contract.