Friday Latte: IRS Refund Blunder, Drought as the “new normal”, Deadly Snail Invasion

Looks like the IRS could use some good ol' spend analysis tools?
Tax Scam: IRS Pays Out Billions in Fraudulent Refunds -- The IRS is paying out billions of dollars in fraudulent tax refunds to identity thieves; a problem that the tax service's inspector general told CNBC is a "growing problem" involving numbers that are increasing "exponentially." In a new report to be issued Thursday, the inspector general for the IRS says that tax thieves are stealing the identities of taxpayers and then filing bogus returns on their behalf and collecting fraudulent refunds as a result. The inspector general estimates that the IRS could issue as much as $21 billion in fraudulent tax refunds over the next five years.

A truly global problem.
U.S. Drought and Rising Global Food Prices -- The ongoing drought in the Midwest has affected approximately 80 percent of the U.S. corn crop and more than 11 percent of the soybean crop, triggering a rise in global food prices (RFE/RL) that CFR's Isobel Coleman says may fuel political instability in developing countries. The United States produces approximately 35 percent of the world's corn and soybean supply, commodities that are "crucial in the food chain, because they are used for feed stock for animals," Coleman says. Growing demand for meat and protein from emergent middle classes internationally has made many countries dependent on "relatively inexpensive food stocks" from the United States, she explains. "When you see a crop failure of the magnitude you have seen this summer, it flows through the whole food chain," says Coleman, who recommends reconsidering the U.S. ethanol mandate and building "more resilience into the global food system."

Killer snails?!
African snail: Deadly invasion in South America -- In the fields, they are an agricultural nuisance. In the cities, they clutter up the sidewalks and rip the stucco off houses. Such is the density with which they congregate at the height of an invasion, that they have even been known to cause slicks on highways. But the snails are not just an unsightly pest. They can also kill. In tropical regions, giant African snails, as well as other types of slugs and snails, can carry a nematode - a kind of parasite - called the rat lungworm. These minute worms, if ingested, enter the circulation and travel to the brain, where they can lead to eosinophilic meningitis. Symptoms range from headaches to tingling, numbness and involuntary flexing of muscles. In severe cases, sufferers may go into coma and die.

What NOT to buy at Costco.
4 things never to buy at Costco -- You head to Costco to stock up on staples -- say, paper towels and cleaning supplies -- but you walk out with three salmon filets, a tub of cream puffs, and a ream of printer paper. Why? Most of us are notoriously poor at assessing a true bargain, says C.W. Park, professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, and editor of The Journal of Consumer Psychology. Seduced by the prospect of saving money, we give in to impulse buys. Eventually, we regret the purchase or throw much of a past-its-prime product away. It's called the Costco Effect, and it's actually part of the store's incredibly successful retail strategy. But the effect on your wallet is that you spent more than you would have if you'd never seen that "bargain."

- Sheena Moore

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