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HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF AGAINST IDENTITY THEFT

Posted By George (Clint) Frederick CPA PLLC, George Frederick CPA PLLC, Monday, July 18, 2016

 HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF AGAINST IDENTITY THEFT

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICCPA) this week suggested a letter to mail to all accounting firm clients with suggestions for protecting you and your family from identity theft.  The issue hits close to home since my daughter was a victim of identity theft last year.  We did not discover the theft until we tried to file her 2014 income tax return.  The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) promptly notified us that she had already filed her tax return.  What to do?  First, call the police department and report the theft.  File form 14039 (Identity Theft Affidavit) with the IRS. If you need specialized assistance, call the IRS at 800-908-4490. The IRS does not accept an electronic return when you are a victim of identity fraud.  Instead, the old-fashioned paper return is required.  My daughter has yet to receive her refund.  Per the IRS it might be as long as six months.   

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) estimates that for 2013 fraudulent tax returns obtained about $5.8 billion and affected 2.4 million US taxpayers.  That number is increasing.  In a recent seminar I attended on identity theft for professional tax practioners the moderator asked the audience how many had clients that were victims of identity theft.  The show of hands was unanimous.  All had clients that were victims.

The AICPA recommended the following safeguards:

·         Secure private personal information.  Safeguard family names and birthdays, account numbers, passwords, and especially Social Security Numbers. Carefully consider all requests to provide your Social Security number before giving it out.  Do not carry your social security card in your purse or wallet. Shred unneeded documents that contain personal information, including junk mail solicitations.

·          Monitor personal information shared on social media.  Cybercriminals methodically gather data from online sources, including commonly used identifiers such as birthdate, maiden name, pet names, hometown, significant other, and children’s information.  Be cautious with who you communicate with online and be selective before accepting electronic invitations from people you do not know or recognize.  Separate what you post publically and from what you post with your personal contacts.  Do not post personal and family data.     

·         Secure your computer.  Use current version of antivirus, malware protection, and firewalls and update these programs frequently.  Consider having this software updated automatically, as well as using separate computers for business and finances than you do for social media and personal matters. Use strong passwords and change them frequently.

·         Beware of impersonators.  Criminals use sophisticated computer technology, such as dialers and automated questions, to contact thousands of targets daily.  Do not provide personal information to callers you do not know.   Watch out if a caller requests you verify personal information. Ask questions; their telephone number, name of their supervisor, email address, mailing address, their website.  The IRS never initiates contact by telephone.  They contact you using USPS. 

·         Unsolicited emails and phishing swindles. Do not open attachments or electronic links unless you know the sender.  Internet sites should they are encrypted.  Always be aware of entering sensitive data.  Forward emails received from IRS impersonators to phishing@irs.gov  The IRS never initiates contact by email, text message, or social media channels. 

·         Monitor your personal information.  Review your bank and credit card statements often.

·         Electronic transmission of financial information.  Do not send sensitive tax or personal information via unsecured email, even information transmitted to CPAs, bankers, and/or financial advisors.  A secure portal, encrypted email or physical mailing of sensitive information is necessary. 

·         Order your free annual credit report.  Call 877-322-8228 or go to www.annualcreditreport.com to request your report and search for creditors you do not know.  Choose to use only the last four digits of your Social Security number on your report.  Consider placing a credit card freeze on your account so only approved creditors can access your file. 

Another swindle becoming quite popular is the "Grandparents scam”.  In the conference I attended, one person in the audience related her story of her parents being a victim.  A swindler called her parents, identified by name their Grandson, identified himself as their Grandson’s good friend.  The Grandparents   recognized the name of their Grandson’s friend.  The caller said they were traveling in Mexico and their Grandson is in jail and needs bail money.  "Please don’t call our parents, the friend pleads!”  The Grandparents wired $8,500 to the caller.  The person relating the story stated, "Why my parents didn’t call me I’ll never know!”  The money is lost and not recoverable.

 The reality is your personal data is already at risk everywhere.  However, following the above suggestions reduces the likelihood of becoming an identity theft victim.  The main thing however, just be cognizant and aware, think about why someone wants your information. Maybe, disclosure not necessary.  

Tags:  accounting  fraud  identity theft  IRS  tax 

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Identity Thieves May Be Targeting Your Employees

Posted By Kenyatta Turner, LegalShield Independent Associate, Monday, May 16, 2016

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

By Erin Stubing

 

Most corporate managers are familiar with the scam involving a thief sending a fake bill to a company’s accounts payable department, hoping that the accounting clerk would simply pay the bill without verifying its legitimacy. Thieves can use this simple scam to great effect, often tricking employees into sending money to the fraudster. 

However, the tactics used by data and identity thieves have evolved. Thieves are now targeting employees for bigger payments, as well as sensitive employee data. The thieves’ best ploys look very legitimate and play on the employee’s desire (and requirement) to answer a company executive quickly and with full cooperation. A common scam involves obtaining W-2 data by tricking an employee into thinking the CEO has requested it. This, of course, makes your employee vulnerable to having their identity stolen. 

Tax- or wage-related fraud was the leading form of reported identity theft in 2015, comprising 45% of all consumer complaints reported to the Federal Trade Commission (link opens PDF). W-2 data has been a popular target lately and it is likely due to the ease with which tax return fraud is perpetrated. Forty-five percent of all of the identity theft claims collected by the Federal Trade Commission in 2015 related to tax- or wage-fraud. In fact, there was a 47% increase in the number of identity theft complaints received by the FTC in 2015, and they stated that tax- or wage-fraud was responsible for the bulk of that increase.

To get an idea about how rampant the W-2 scheme is, just perform an internet search on “phishing scams W-2” in order to find multiple news reports about businesses that experienced a W-2 phishing scam.  All types of businesses have been affected: a grocery store chain, financial firms, health care providers, entertainment companies, universities, technology companies and even a concrete supply company.

Human resources and other corporate managers would do well to be vigilant, to help protect their employees' personal information. LegalShield's identity theft partner Kroll has prepared a flyer that outlines how employers can help protect their workers. Download it and share it with your managers!

For more information about LegalShield or IDShield for yourself, your family, your business, or your employees, please contact Kenyatta Turner, Independent Associate at 602-367-1069 or KenyattaTurner@LegalShieldAssociate.com.  Worry Less...Live More!

Tags:  data breach  employee benefits  fraud  human resources  identity theft  kroll  phishing scams  small business  w2 

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So You Filed Your Taxes. Now What?

Posted By Kenyatta Turner, LegalShield Independent Associate, Friday, May 6, 2016

YOUR POST TAX FILING CHECKLIST

After filing your taxes there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself for next year’s filing, protect yourself from scammers and even ease worry about a potential audit. This may include storing documents where you can easily find them, protecting your personal financial information from thieves and being ready should you be selected for an audit. 

•    Hold on to your tax documents. Save copies of your return as well as all of the receipts and other documents you use to prepare your taxes. Keep the documents in a safe and accessible location. You may be asked to produce documents to back up your return. Having all of the information organized and accessible will make it easier for you to validate your return should the IRS come calling. It is a good rule of thumb to retain your tax records for six (6) years. While you may not need all of your tax documents for that long, it is better to have them available should you need them.

•    Keep your documents safe. Whether you file online or use a professional you must keep your personal information safe. Tax returns are a goldmine for identity thieves. Never store sensitive information on public computers or transmit financial information through unsecured WiFi. 

•    Watch for signs of identity theft. Your tax information may be at risk of falling into the wrong hand at no fault of your own. Scammers have been targeting human resources and payroll professionals. Scammers have requested W-2s by email using spoofing to pose as company executives. Click here to learn more about this scam. If you believe you may be the victim of identity theft and you have an IDShield membership call (800) 806-3991. If you do not have an IDShield membership visit www.IDShield.com to learn more.

•    Beware of phony audit or IRS correspondence. If you receive a phone call at home or work from someone claiming to be an IRS official collecting a debt do not make a payment or provide them with your personal information. Scammers pose as IRS officials and use severe threats to convince victims to make immediate payment or to provider personal financial information. The IRS will not contact you by phone, email or in person for an audit or to collect back taxes. Legitimate communication from the IRS will come via postal mail. Do not respond to, open or click on any links in emails claiming to be from the IRS. If you believe you may owe back taxes you should contact the IRS directly at 800-829-1040 or the Canada Revenue Agency at 800-959-8281.

•    Be ready if you are audited. Only a small percentage of tax payers will ever face an audit, but the threat alone is enough to make many worry. Often, you will simply be asked to clarify a particular portion of your return rather than face a full audit. If you are audited, your LegalShield family plan offers audit legal services starting with your tax return due on April 15th of your first membership year. This includes an attorney at your initial audit meeting and if necessary an attorney to represent you further at the preferred member rate. If you receive notice of an audit, call your LegalShield provider law firm right away.  http://www.legalshield.com/hub/kenyattaturner

•    Improve the process for next year. If getting your documents together to file and figuring out deductions was difficult this year, learn from those challenges. Is there a better way to track expenses or file receipts? Figure out how to improve the process so you don’t face the same headaches next year.

-LegalShield

 

Tags:  bookkeeping  identity protection  identity theft  IRS  legal competency  tax planning  tax strategy  taxes 

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