Monthly Archives: February 2016

Tax Season 2016 – Tax Prep Apps of the Week

The Internet rapidly automated so many things including filing your taxes.  Because of technology and software advances as many as 80 percent of Americans can and do prepare their own taxes using various software and web services.  

Many African-Americans access the web using smartphones. Because of this we need to examine some very good apps that can help you if decide to do your own taxes using your smartphone. These apps are designed to allow you to record and prepare financial records and even file taxes directly from your smartphone. These are the Apps of the Week.

 

IRS2GoIRS2Go – This is the official app of the Internal Revenue Service. Although you cannot actually file your taxes using this app you can check the status of your tax refund, make tax payments, and get updates from the IRS. IRS2Go also offers important numbers and times to call and ask questions. You can also sign up for tax hints through the app. For those of you who filed e-taxes you can check on their status with the app within 72 hours.

IRS2Go is free and available for Apple and Android.

 

 

 

 

myblock-mobile-app-dMy BlockUnlike IRS2Go the H&R My Block app is a bit more rich in features. My Block, one of two apps offered by the tax prep giant, allows the user to check their refund status. My Block also offers a robust help section that defines terms and answer basic tax questions. It also offers a checklist that helps the user create a tax filing to-do list along with tools that allow you to estimate the size of your refund. If you have additional questions My Block allows you to set up an appointment at a local H&R Block office.  You can also use My Block to upload documents so your tax pro will have them available during your appointment.

My Block is free and available for Apple and Android.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tax Prtaxprep-mobile-app-deparation – H&R Block’s Tax Preparation is different from its sister app because it actually allows the user to prepare and file tax returns.  Tax Preparation does a neat trick by collecting and importing information directly from a photo of your W-2. The user can select from various versions from free, basic, deluxe to premium editions. The app shows the user what causes their refund to fluctuate, offers cross-platform syncing and status updates on your return. The app also offers advice and free, in-person audit support. 

Tax Preparation is free ad available for Apple and Android.

 

 

 

 

 

 

expensify-logoExpensify – Expensify wasn’t exactly made for preparing taxes. But if you own a business or are self-employed this app can help you get the most from your deductions. Using the app allows the self employed business person or any business owner to capture receipts, track billing hours and travel miles. Expensify allows the user to record any expenses or operating costs. It also automatically imports credit card transactions and scan receipts for expense reports that can later be converted to IRS-approved e-Receipts minimizing paper usage and hopefully any tax-related discrepancies.

Expensify is free and available for Apple and Android.

 

 

Ask a cpaAsk A CPA – Ask A CPA is an app with a host of basic tips encompassing the latest changes in tax law. These tips cover a variety of different categories, from alimony and dividends to adoption expenses and charitable deductions. Ask A CPA also gives the user the opportunity to ask specific questions it hasn’t already covered within the app’s archives. However there have been complaints about the text space available for questions. The coolest feature is that local CPAs in your area answer these questions. Ask A CPA is a powerful resource for owners of small businesses who need answers to common tax questions but also for individual taxpayers.

Ask A CPA is free and available for Apple and Android.

 

Turbo taxTurboTax Preparation – TurboTax Preparation works very similar to its online counterpart. The app offers a wealth of tax-related information and tools for preparing and e-filing your taxes. Like H&R Block’s Tax Preparation  app the TurboTax app can also pull information from a photo of your W-2. It provides step-by-step instructions while seeking out as many as 350 tax deductions and credits intended to maximize your refund.  The app double checks your return and the information you provided as you go.  Once loaded on your different devices the app syncs so you can switch between your iPhone, iPad or computer. 
 

Turbo Tax Preparation is free and available for Apple and Android.

 

 

 

 

 

Tax ActExTaxACT Express –  TaxAct Express is another full service app for filing taxes. It can help with most common tax situations and, like other apps, automatically imports information from a photo of your W-2. The app will track the status of your IRS refund and notify you when it’s been processed. The app also offer free e-filing of state and federal taxes for free. 

Tax ACT Express is free and available for Apple and Android

 

 

 

 

BNABNA Quick Tax Reference – BNA Quick Tax Reference provides some valuable reference material but is not exactly easy to use but then again it is meant for the more financially savvy user.  The user can find tables showing mileage rates, corporate tax rate schedules, individual tax rate schedules, standard deductions, retirement plan limits, and more. If you looking to file back taxes the tables can take you back to 2012. 

BNA Quick Tax Reference is free and available for Apple and Android.

 

 

turbotax-taxcasterTaxCaster – This app is also offered by Intuit makers of the TurboTax products.  TaxCaster is designed for filers with relatively simple taxes and a single job, much like the 1040EZ and 1040A tax forms and you don’t have to sign up to use it. The user simply enter their wages, marital status, earnings, and deductions.  TaxCaster can quickly give you a good idea of what kind of refund you might receive. This fairly simple app won’t  prepare your taxes, but it can give you a good idea what to expect when you do.

TaxCaster is free and available for Apple and Android.

 

 

Technology’s Dirty Secrets Series – E-Waste and Technology Pollution

WEEE-Dump-in-GhanaTechnology makes our lives easier. But the world we live in has hidden corners where others suffer for our easy life.  E-waste and  technology pollution is wrecking the environment especially in third world countries. Some countries on the African continent are poisoned and polluted by the technology industry we hold so dear in the United States and the western world. This is the dirt and blood that coats the billions of dollars made manufacturing, selling and disposing of technology. In this series the African-American Cyber Report will expose the dirty secrets of the technology industry. In this third and final article of this series we examine the practice and victims of electronic and technology waste disposal.

The explosive growth of the electronics and technology industries has also sparked a tragic onslaught of electrical and electronic waste (e-waste). In 2012, the United Nations reported that in five years, the world’s electronic waste would grow by 33% from 49.7 million tons to 65.4 million tons.

The third world industry of recycling the valuable elements contained in our e-waste such as copper and gold is both a source of income and illness and death in developing or emerging industrialized countries.

Impoverished people are using crude, even primitive techniques to harvest valuable metals from discarded electronics. One technique used is burning cables to get at the cooper wiring. This method exposes children, adults and even entire families to a range of hazardous substances.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) these children and families suffer from e-waste-connected health risks as a result of direct contact with harmful materials such as lead, cadmium, chromium, brominated flame retardants or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) because they are inhaling toxic fumes.

Not only is the air they breath severely polluted but so is the very ground they stand on. Because of our electronic waste dangerous chemicals pollute the soil, water and food. Recycling industries where workers dismantle electrical equipment with little or no safety precautions also pose the threat of injury.

One of the most polluted places on earth is Agbloboshie in Ghana’s capital of Accra. According to the Green Cross Switzerland and the Blacksmith Institute  Agbloboshie is one of the 10 most polluted places in the world, thanks to toxic fumes, which are a result of consistent dumping of electronic goods.  Agbloboshie has been Western Europe’s dumping ground fordiscarded electronic goods for more than twenty years.  About 215,000 tons of second hand consumer items land in Agbloboshie every year, generating 129,000 tons of electronic waste.

“We estimate that the health of more than 200 million people is at risk from pollution in the developing world,” said Richard Fuller, who heads US-based environment watchdog the Blacksmith Institute.

African nations are not alone as they bathe in the west’s e-waste. Indonesia’s Citarum River Basin in West Java is home to about nine million people and 2,000 factories. The river, source of drinking water and rice farming irrigation,  is contaminated by a wide range of toxins, including aluminium and manganese and tests have shown lead at levels more than 1,000 times above U.S. standards.

American’s fail to understanding of what some parts of the world is going through as we enjoy the age of technology.

A report from the the U.S. Government Accountability Office is a clear indictment of the way Americans dispose of electronic waste. American electronics recyclers appear to be shipping used equipment containing CRTs (cathode ray tubes) overseas in violation of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations.  But even worse is the fact that the agency’s regulations cover only the export of used and discarded CRT monitors, not other electronic equipment. So whatever e-waste we can dump on the third world is fair game.

Only 25 percent of  U.S. generated e-waste is recycled. The other 75 percent goes straight to American landfills or third world nations.

The U.S. is shipping used electronic devices containing toxic substances overseas and there are few if any laws to protect these people and the environment in those countries, according to a government auditor’s report.

“Concerns have grown … that some U.S. companies are exporting these items to developing countries, where unsafe recycling practices can cause health and environmental problems,” the GAO report said. “Imported used electronics that cannot be repaired are often recycled in developing countries by crude and inefficient means and with virtually no human health or environmental protection.”

According to the GAO 20 percent of discarded electronics from the U.S. would add up to 66 million pounds of e-waste being shipped overseas each year. This wastes ends up in places like Agbloboshie.

So how do you dispose of electronic products?   Check the EPA’s website or the Electronics Take Back Coalition for  information about e-Stewards, which are responsible recyclers of electronic waste. If you can’t find and e-Steward near you check the manufacturer’s website or store recycling programs. For instance, Staples and Best Buy both have recycling programs.

There is also a thriving industry in the U.S. that buys old electronics or take trade ins. These include websites like Gazalle.com and BuyBackWorld.com. And for the record you can find electronic buy back programs at Walmart and Target stores.

 

 

 

 

Celebrity Cyber Report – Dr. Dre, Kanye West

Dr. Dre

Dre


Word on the street is that
Apple and Dr. Dre are collaborating on a new television series starring the rich and famous NWA alum. The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that Apple is financing a scripted series starring Dr. Dre. and an Apple executive. Entitled “Vital Signs” the series to be released by Apple Music has been described as a “dark semi-autobiographical drama.” THR insiders have revealed that Sam Rockwell and Mo McCrae are among the additional cast.

“Vital Signs” has been described as a dark drama filled with its fair share of with violence and sex. Filming has begun and according to the THR naked extras simulated sex in a mansion in the Bird Streets neighborhood of Los Angeles’ Hollywood Hills.

Apple, known mostly for its computers and iPhones has reportedly been interested in producing original programming for a few years. This interest is sparked by the success of streaming media giants Netflix and Amazon. The original concept for the show is the brainchild of Dre himself and he pitched it to his partner  Jimmy Iovine ‘Vital Signs’ marks Apple’s first serious investment in scripted television and the first season is slated for six episodes produced by Dre.

Dre, who’s government name is Andre Young, is rollin’!  His recent successes include his bio-pic ‘Straight Outta Compton’ which blasted onto the big screen to the tune of $200 million and some how got Suge Knight charged with murder.  In 2015 he also dropped his first album  in 15 years entitled ‘Compton’ As of January it had sold 502,000 copies in the U.S. Oh! And don’t forget Beats by Dr. Dre headphones sold to Apple for $3 billion!

Kanye keeps busy. As if launching a clothing line, a magazine and a new album was not enough it appears he in another dust up relating to Taylor Swift.

Kanye’ s Madison Square Garden concert celebrating the release of his new album ‘The Life of Pablo’ or  T.L.O.P. ignited the controversy.  The album is only available from the Jay-Z’s Tidal music service. One particular cut entitled ‘Famous’ included the line, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / I made that bitch famous.”  Some believe it’s a reference to Taylor Swift. Kanye interrupted her at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, remember that? Thank Beyonce for cleaning that mess up. It was thought the two had made peace. But maybe not.

The controversy surrounds the idea that Swift actually had a chance to read the lyrics before Kanye released the song. At least that is what  TMZ is reporting and that she approved it.

According to Kanye  he called Taylor and had a long talk with her about the offending lyric. ” …and she thought it was funny and gave her blessings.” On Twitter Kanye said he can’t take credit for the line. Kanye insists Swift had dinner with a friend of his during which she is supposed to have said; “I can’t be mad at Kanye because he made me famous!”

New York Times’ music critic Jon Caramanica is telling a different story.  According to Caramanica who shared a statement  from Swift’s spokesperson condemning the track. In the statement the representative wrote;  “Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single ‘Famous’ on her Twitter account. She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message. Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, ‘I made that bitch famous.'”

This just the latest ugly skirmish surrounding Kanye’s latest release. He has also been caught up in a  Twitter spat with Wiz Khalifa . West criticized his ex-girlfriend Amber Rose, the model and activist who has a child with Khalifa. In addition he went on the record defending Bill Cosby’s innocence also on Twitter.

Now with all that going on Kanye has also been working on  video game. No, I’m not kidding. According to Thenextweb.com  Kanye showed off a video game he had worked on with the title  ‘Only One.’ According to West, “The idea of the game is, my mom traveling through the gates of heaven.” Told you he was busy and he better stay that way. Kanye tweeted that he is $53 million in debt and pleaded for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to come to his rescue. Really Kanye? Don’t you have Dre’s number?

Tax Season 2016 – Claim Your Refund ASAP!

canstockphoto2986221Tax season 2016 is heating up rapidly. And as we’ve told you it is also scam season. Cyber crooks and identity thieves can’t  wait to use those millions of stolen Social Security numbers to file false claims and reap in millions more in fraudulent refunds. The best advice, whether or not you’re expecting a refund, is file your return as soon as possible! 

The IRS and most state tax agencies won’t get your W-2 information until April. This presents cyber criminals with a window of opportunity to file a fraudulent return using your Social Security number if they have it.  New laws should shorten that time by at least a month next year. But that is no help this year.

 According to the IRS 90 percent of federal refunds will be mailed or deposited within 21 days after returns are filed. But that still gives identity thieves plenty of time to file a fraudulent return before the IRS receives your W-2. 

According to Sandra Block of Kiplinger.com crooks using stolen Social Security numbers claimed $5.8 billion in fraudulent refunds in 2013 and the IRS says it blocked phony refunds worth another $24.2 billion.

So again our best advice is to not to wait to file your return. File as soon as you have all your documents. Quickly filing your return and claiming your refund can prevent a thief with your social security number from hijacking your refund before you get it. If you got it they can’t get it!

If you believe you have been the victim of identity theft or your Social Security number has been stolen you can file an Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039) with the IRS. 

Another to place to go if you believe that your identity has been stolen is Identitytheft.gov. This is a one stop comprehensive website to handle identity theft complaints and get you started at recovering your identity.

Even if you’re not concerned about someone stealing your tax refund, you should file early for the following reasons;

  • You will get your refund sooner.
  • You will have more time to plan if you owe money (it’s not due until April 15)
  • You’ll have more time to deal with any issues that come up. Tax firms and accountants are busy this time of year so  don’t wait until the last minute.

Now you know.

Tax Season 2016 – Hackers Attack IRS

irs-logoHackers are hell bent on stealing tax refunds. On Tuesday the IRS announced an attack that occurred last month in which cyber criminals were able to steal taxpayer identification numbers before the Internal Revenue Service detected and shut down the attack. Hackers stole customer “Electronic Filing PINs,” meant to ensure information security. These PINs would enable hackers to file fraudulent tax returns.

More and more Americans are filing their taxes online. Officials expect 80 percent of the 150 million returns will be filed online this tax season. As a result the number of attempts by hackers to file fake returns and steal tax refunds is on the rise.

In a statement the IRS said that the hackers used a sophisticated automated software that used more than 450,000 stolen Social Security numbers to try to generate e-filing PINs. Even though the attack was stopped they were successful in securing about 100,000 PINS.

According to the IRS the SSN’s were “stolen elsewhere outside the IRS.” The agency added, “no personal taxpayer data was compromised or disclosed” by its systems. The IRS said it will notify taxpayers affected by the attack and will flag their accounts to guard against identity theft.

The IRS and the federal government are in possession of incredible amounts of personal data of U.S. citizens, Yet the government appears almost helpless to protect this data from cyber theives. Last year alone the government lost the data, including electronic finger print files,  of over  20 million Americans in a historic data breach of the Office of Personnel Management.

On Tuesday President Barack Obama proposed to spend $19 billion on more-secure technology for the government. If approved by Congress the money would be used to recruit cyber security experts, reducing reliance on unsafe items like SSNs, and overhauling the government’s computers.

Celebrity Cyber Report – Kanye West

Kanye_West_at_the_2009_Tribeca_Film_Festival

Kanye West

Rapper, entrepreneur, magazine publisher and husband to Kim Khardasian, Kanye West is working as hard as ever. West will take over Madison Square Garden to stage a show celebrating the launch both his Yeezy Season 3 clothing line and his new album entitled T.L.O.P. The name was a mystery until E0nline.com revealed that it means “The Life of Pablo.” Now the only question is; who is Pablo?

West will live stream the event on Jay-Z’s  Tidal music service starting at 4:00PM EST Thursday afternoon. The show will be available to both subscribers and non-subscribers. The announcement caught many by surprise since it was believed that the only way to see the show would be to buy a ticket or see the show in a theater.

Tidal music service, an artists owned streaming media company simply refuses to die. It is a testament to Jay-Z’s determination as a business man. Kanye’s  streaming concert, exclusive to Tidal, is the latest success for the struggling company. These recent splashes have been a direct result of the artists who co-own the service.  Sultry  Rihanna launched her new album ANTI on the service two weeks ago, and Beyoncé, Mrs. Shawn Carter, released her new single“Formation” on Tidal just a day before her stunning Super Bowl performance. All this was provided for free to anyone.

Back to Kanye, like many of the brother’s in the hip hop game West is exercising his entrepreneurial interests by also kicking off a magazine or “Zine“as he has labeled it.  West threw a party at a Manhattan parking garage, (that was last night and you missed it!) to celebrate the Zine and his previous fashion collection Yeezy Season 2. After all this the rapper is scheduled to appear on Saturday Night Live on February 13th for his first post-album performance.

Technology’s Dirty Secrets Series – Child and Forced Labor

Child-Labor-in-ChinaTechnology makes our lives easier. But the world we live in has hidden corners where others suffer for our easy life. They are exploited, poisoned then buried under mountains of technology trash. These people are resigned to accept it as the way life is. This is the dirt and blood that coats the billions of dollars made manufacturing, selling and disposing of technology. In this series the African-American Cyber Report will expose the dirty secrets of the technology industry. In the second article of this series we examine the practice of child and forced labor.

In the previous report we wrote about the use of conflict minerals and the conditions of the mines where these minerals come from. We also pointed out that many children work in these mines.

The definition of child labor according to Australian based WorldVision Action report is “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity. Work that exceeds a minimum number of hours; work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and work that interferes with their schooling.”

The worlds largest phone and technology companies, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft, along with a list of others are being accused by Amnesty International of failing to perform even the most minor checks to ensure the minerals they use in their products are not mined by children.

According to report from United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are approximately 40,000 children are working in mines in the Congo alone. In these mines children, sometimes along side their parents, work with their bare hands to dig out minerals used in our modern electronics. Theses mines are extremely dangerous and little of no safety equipment is provided. Children breath toxic dust and risk injury and death deep inside mineral mines.  In a quote from a 2012 report   “Jean-Bertin, a 34-year-old Congolese activist said he wants to end the “absolute silence” around the crimes committed in his country to exploit strategic raw materials like coltan. “It’s possible that two children died so that you could have that mobile phone,” he said

Yet major technology companies continue to buy these minerals from what is essentially slave labor providers sometime denying any knowledge of child forced labor.

An investigation by Amnesty International looked in to the business of Chinese Mineral giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd. The company is major supplier of mineral to technology companies.

According to a BBC report Amnesty contacted 16 multinational battery manufacturers that purchased minerals from companies who in turn source minerals from Huayou Cobalt.

One company admitted to buying the mineral while four others were uncertain of source of the cobalt they used. Five others denied sourcing the mineral from the company even though company documents listed them as customers.  Six other companies said they were investigating the claims.

But the issues of child and forced labor goes well beyond the African continent and the mining industry. In Asia many companies use indentured workers, forced child labor and even kidnappings in the manufacture of electronics.

According to the World Vision Action Report China is the producer of almost half world’s electronics products. It is also where worker exploitation has been widely reported. Workers in these Chinese electronics factories receive low wages and are forced to work excessive overtime to meet astronomical production goals. Some factories fail to offer employees protective clothing and equipment. The result is that workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals and odors. Other common complaints include discrimination, verbal harassment and excessive punishment from factory management.

Even in this sector of the electronics industry child labor is still an issue. Cases have been reported where children as young as nine years old have been found working in factories making electronics.  Due to a labor shortages in China children from poor, rural areas are recruited to work in factories. Recruiters sometimes send money to the child’s family on a monthly basis as an incentive to keep their child working.

Some children are kidnapped and forced to work in the factories.  Children are transported to cities and factories where kidnappers deal with factory owners to supply child labor and offer to attend the factories to beat the children if they are disobedient.   These children are threatened and beaten to prevent them from running away and work up to 12 hours a day with no idea or hope of ever seeing their home or parents again.

World Vision Action also reported that children being forced out of school to work as “student interns” or “apprentices” in factories to pay off debts, tuition and school fees. These are the factories making our smartphones and tablets. Should a student desire to quit and return to their family, school administrators threaten to fail them.  Other measures used to coerce students to stay in the factory include factory management withholding wages or confiscating identity papers if they attempt to leave.

What has the manufacturers said about this situation. Read their statements to TechCrunch.com here.

Now you know

Breach Brief – FBI, DHS

Seal_of_the_United_States_Department_of_Justice.svgThe personal information of nearly 30,000 federal employees, including FBI employees may have been compromised. 

According to Motherboard.com an anonymous hacker used a compromised Department of Justice email account to gain access to the department’s intranet. Using this access the hacker allegedly downloaded the personal information of more than 20,000 FBI employees and roughly 9,000 Department of Homeland Security employees. The hacker is threatening to release the information.

The compromised information includes names, job titles, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers. The attack targeted not only DHS employees, but also individuals listed as agency contractors. Other DHS staffers, such as analysts, special agents, and technicians, were also targeted.

The hacker obtained specific information to access the system by using social engineering methods while pretending to be a new employee needing assistance. The hacker claimed to be a Palestinian sympathizer who wants the U.S. to sever ties with Isreal.

A spokesman for the  Justice Department said the information doesn’t appear to include any sensitive personal details. The agency is investigating potential unauthorized access of one of its systems. A Homeland security spokesman said it’s also looking into the alleged disclosure of employee contact information. There is no statement from the FBI.

 

Tax Season 2016 – Beware Tax Scams

Courtesy Stuart Miles

Courtesy Stuart Miles

Its tax season again and as always the cyber scum is out to get you. No matter how many warnings are sent out to the tax paying workers of America there is always someone who gets taken (robbed) by a smooth talking criminal. They come at you through the phone, email, snail mail and a even knock at your door. And if you don’t know how to deal with them you are gonna lose money. In many cases a lot of money.

Tax seas0n is scam season so you need to be alert and aware of a few things. First of all make sure you know and completely understand how the IRS works, how they contact you and how they collect money. Without this knowledge you are gonna get robbed. Keep in that most four of five tax returns are filed electronically. Another fact;  out of 10,000 scams tracked by the Better Business Bureau in 2015, nearly a fourth of are tax related. 

Lets talk about how the criminals will come at you this tax season so you don’t become this years sucker.

Phone Extortion  – Going back to 2003 there has been 900,000 phone calls to tax payers claiming to be the IRS and demanding immediate payment or the tax payer will face legal penalties or jail. The scam comes back every year, slightly modified but still the same scam and it still gets plenty of suckers.  

Don’t be that sucker! The IRS will never call you and demand immediate payment…never!  The IRS will send you a letter telling you if you have a tax bill. They will send you more letters if you ignore that one. The letter will have a contact number on it. If you ignore enough letters they will come registered mail. But any demand for immediate payment should be looked upon with deep suspicion. If you have any doubts call the IRS using the number on the website. Never return a call to a number the caller leaves you. Protect yourself and makes sure you know who you are talking to and never every give personal information to some you don’t know.

Phishing emails Cyber criminals send these emails out by the millions. These scum can make a very real looking and exact copies of the IRS logo and website. Check you URL or web address carefully.  You might find it reads www.irs.net or www.irs.us or some other deception. The IRS website address is www.irs.gov.

Don’t be that sucker! The IRS does not send you emails with links or attachments. The IRS does not send out emails period!  Do not fill out any forms attached to an email as you may be giving out enough information to have your identity stolen. So if you get an IRS email delete it. 

The name of the game when it come to your money and information is trust no one. Make them prove everything before you answer a question or send out a dime.

For more information check out these links.

Top 4 Scariest Tax Scams 2015

IRS Tax Scams 2015

IRS.gov – Taxes. Security. Together.

 

 

Technology’s Dirty Secrets Series- Mining Coltan

Congolese miners dig at a gold mine in Montgbawalu, Ituri district, eastern Congo, September 8, 2005. The Democratic Republic of Congo's government will renegotiate the existing gold exploration venture it has with AngloGold Ashanti, the world's number two gold producer, the head of Congo's state mining agency OKIMO said on Thursday. Picture taken September 8, 2005. REUTERS/Jiro Ose

Young miners digging coltan

Technology makes for a convenient life. Easy communications. Easy shopping. Easy at home and easy at work. We depend on technology for our new electric and hybrid cars, more efficient appliances and dependable access to information. Technology makes life easy…for most people.

The world we live in has hidden corners where others suffer for our easy life. They are exploited, poisoned then buried under mountains of technology trash. These people are resigned to accept it as the way life is. This is the dirt and blood that coats the billions of dollars made manufacturing, selling and disposing of technology. In this series the African-American Cyber Report will expose the dirty secrets of the technology industry starting with the mining of the raw materials.

Modern technology manufacturing begins with the extraction of certain raw materials from the earth. Cellphones and computers have inside them rare and hard to come by minerals and metals. These are often mined in African countries by people working in conditions and for wages that are simply inhuman.

The mineral coltan is found almost exclusively in Africa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Refining coltan creates a metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. This electrical charge is crucial to the tiny circuit boards that power our iPhones, laptop computers, tablets and many other high-tech devices. The men who mine this rare and vital mineral dig using simple picks and shovels and sometimes their bare hands sometimes for 12 hours a day.  Workers often carry the heavy sacks of raw coltan out of the mine on their backs. Working conditions are abysmal and dangerous and there is no safety equipment or procedures.

Even though this mineral is vitally important to the technology industry wages are shockingly low for this crippling labor.  We may pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for our electronics.  Yet these miners toil under the hot sun daily earning just $5 a day for a 12-hour day. The minimum wage is $3 a day. Living in the horrific poverty of the Democratic Republic of the Congo these men have no choice but to endure these grueling and dangerous conditions. But it is not always men suffering in these conditions. Children as young as ten are employed in the mines and deaths are a regular occurrence.

Not only are people suffering for our technology products but the land is suffering as well. Mountains are often ripped apart to mine coltan leaving the land scarred and polluted. Rivers are often filled with silt from mine runoff  that sometimes contains mercury, cyanide and other dangerous chemicals. Large tracts of forests are wiped out in search of the minerals destroying wildlife habitats.

To compound the dangers and back breaking labor is the fact that these mines are often the prize among warring groups. The wealth created by the mines have fueled repeated wars not only among rebels and warlords but also with the government of the Congo for more than 20 years.

The National Congress for Defense of People or CNDP militia have used revenue from the sale of coltan to buy weapons and ammunition in their armed struggle against the army of the DRC. Thousands of innocent miners and civilians have been killed or driven from their homes as a result of these wars. As with all wars atrocities are frequent including rape, mutilations and the use of child soldiers.

A searing 2001 United Nations Report on the ‘Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources’, laid blame squarely on the sale of coltan and other precious minerals to multi-national corporations as the “engine of conflict in the DRC.”

Apple, Samsung and other electronics manufacturers admit they use coltan from these mines to make the smartphones we depend on everyday.  Without shame, these companies say they will will continue to do so.

In 2015 Apple reported to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission “that it is committed to driving economic development and creating opportunities to source conflict-free minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and adjoining countries.”’

The company went on to say that its suppliers must adhere to its code that; “every worker deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”

In a statement Samsung said it “recognizes the seriousness of human rights violations and environmental pollution problems of mineral mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

The U.S. Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act has led to a crack down in the use of so-called “conflict minerals.” The law requires western corporations to certify the origins of suspicious resources used in technology manufacturing such as coltan thus shutting off the cash financing warlords.

Apple, aware of the hardships suffered by those mining the mineral,  says it is dedicated to using only conflict free minerals in their products.

An Apple spokeswoman added: “The simplest path to calling Apple products conflict-free would be to redirect our demand through a small subset of smelters that are either conflict-free verified, or aren’t sourcing from Central Africa. But this approach would do little to influence the situation on the ground, something we care deeply about. That’s why we have been working to expand the number of verified sources in this region, so that more people can earn a good living, in better conditions.”

Samsung Electronics also supports the ban on conflict minerals saying,; “As a global manufacturer of consumer electronics, we understand the moral and ethical responsibility we have to our consumers and broader society. We remain committed to proactively participating in conversations and actions around the world to ban the use of conflict minerals and ensure responsibly source, conflict-free products.”

Now you know.