A cyber-attack on taxpayer data, blossoming consumer confidence, and a new distinction for Apple top our roundup of the day's top business news stories.
Consumer Confidence Blossoms in May
The Conference Board's consumer confidence index rose to 95.4 in May from 94.3 in April. That reading had been a sharp drop from 101.4 in March. The index reading a year ago stood at 82.2. Consumers' assessment of current economic conditions and the job market improved, but their outlook for the next six months slipped. Consumers this month were more likely to say they planned to buy a big-ticket item such as a car, home or major appliance within the next six months. The University of Michigan's preliminary reading on May consumer sentiment, released May 15, dropped sharply. The university will issue a revised May number Friday.
Cyberattack on IRS, 104,000 Taxpayers’ Data Stolen
Cyber-criminals used an IRS-run online service to access personal tax information from more than 100,000 taxpayers, the Internal Revenue Service announced Tuesday. The thieves accessed “Get Transcript,” a system where taxpayers can get tax returns and other filings from previous years. To access the information, the thieves cleared a security screen that required knowledge about the taxpayer, including Social Security number, date of birth, tax filing status and street address, the Associated Press reports.The IRS has launched a criminal investigation. Efforts by identity thieves, both foreign and domestic, to claim fraudulent tax refunds has surged in recent years. The agency estimates it paid out $5.8 billion in fraudulent refunds to identity thieves in 2013. Taxpayers whose information was compromised will be notified by the IRS.
Puerto Rico Approves Territory Sales Tax Increase
Puerto Rico legislators on Tuesday narrowly approved an increase in the U.S. territory's sales tax from 7 percent to 11.5 percent to help generate more revenue and offset a deep fiscal crisis, the Associated Press reports. Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla is expected to sign the bill that would create a new 4 percent tax on professional services. The sales tax increase would go into effect July 1 and the new tax on Oct. 1, with a transition to a value-added tax by April 1. If approved, it could help generate $1.2 billion in revenue for the territory now in its eighth year of recession.
Amtrak to Install Cab Cameras
Amtrak announced Tuesday it will install video cameras inside locomotive cabs to record the actions of train engineers, the Associated Press reports. The initiative follows the deadly derailment earlier this month that left eight people dead and about 200 injured. Investigators are searching for clues to the train engineer’s actions before the train accelerated to a speed of 106 miles per hour in the last minute before entering a curve whose speed limit is 50 mph. The train was equipped with a "black box" data recorder and an outward-facing camera focused on the track ahead, but neither of those devices revealed what was happening inside the cab. Cameras will initially be installed in 70 new Amtrak locomotives that will power all Northeast Regional and long-distance trains between Washington, New York and Boston, as well as Keystone Service between New York, Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Vox Purchases Re/code
Vox Media, which publishes the tech news site The Verge, has purchased the company that owns the tech reporting site Re/code, as well as the popular tech conference Code, which was the site of the announcement Tuesday. The focus of the two news organizations is not in conflict. One is focused on the business of tech, while the other covers the industry from a lifestyle perspective. Vox Media has multiple news sites. They include SB Nation, a sports site; Curbed, a real estate site; Eater, a food site; and Vox, a general interest news site.
The World’s Most Valuable Brand is….
...Apple, according to WPP and Millward Brown in the advertising agencies’ annual report that ranks the 100 most valuable global brands. Apple is worth $247 billion. "Apple is clear on what it stands for, and never stops refreshing its message to sustain the difference that makes it so desirable," Doreen Wang, Millward Brown's global head of BrandZ, said in the report. Google dropped to second place, followed by Microsoft, IBM and Visa. Facebook was the fastest-growing brand on the list. Chinese e-commerce leader Alibaba debuted on the list above Amazon, the next most valuable retail brand. Neither has physical stores.