How To Protect My Financial Information

10 Tips To Protect Your Taxpayer & Financial Info
10 Tips To Protect Your Taxpayer & Financial Info

October is Cyber Security Awareness month, and the New York State Department of Taxation & Finance has released a list of 10 tips that all taxpayers should know in order to protect their financial information and keep it from falling into the wrong hands:

1. Be wary of aggressive phone scams – Be sure to only give personal information—including social security numbers—to someone you trust. Remember, the NYS Tax Department and the IRS will contact you by mail first and will never threaten you over the phone or demand payment be made through MoneyGram, Western Union, or other wire transfer services; or using iTunes, Greendot, or other cash or gift cards.

2. Avoid phishing scams – Taxpayers may receive emails with authentic-looking government logos that offer assistance in settling fake tax issues. The NYS Tax Department and IRS will never request personal or financial information by email.

3. Protect your computer – Ensure that your computer is secure when accessing your financial accounts online by looking for “https,” with an “s” after the “http,” in the website address.

4. Use strong passwords – Use a combination of upper- and lower-case letters as well as numbers and symbols when creating a new password. Don’t use your name, birthdate, or common words. Use a different password for each of your accounts.

5. Use secure wireless networks – Always encrypt your wireless network with a strong password. Never access your personal accounts on a public Wi-Fi network.

6. Review bank accounts and statements – Check your credit card and banking statements regularly to spot any suspicious activity.

7. Review credit reports annually – Review each of your credit reports annually to spot any new lines of credit that you didn’t apply for or authorize. This can be a sign that a thief has stolen your identity and opened up a credit card, for example, in your name.

8. Think before you post – The more information and photos you share via social media, including current and past addresses, or names of relatives, can provide scammers possible answers to your security questions or otherwise help them access your accounts.

9. Secure tax documents – Store hard copies of your federal and NYS tax returns in a safe place. Digital copies should also be saved. Shred documents that contain personal information before throwing them away.

10. Review and respond to all NYS Tax Department communications– You should review and respond to all notices sent from the Tax Department. Any unexpected correspondence from the Tax Department can be a potential sign that your identity has been stolen. It’s important that you contact the Tax Department immediately to confirm any liabilities.

If you believe that you’ve been contacted by a cyber criminal attempting a scam, have been the victim of fraud or identity theft, or suspect a tax preparer is engaging in illegal activities, visit the Tax Department’s Report fraud, scams, and identity theft webpage to learn how to report it. The Tax Department takes this type of illegal activity seriously, promptly reviews each compliant, and takes corrective action when appropriate.

If you believe you are victim of identity theft and or your financial information has been compromised, please contact an R&G Brenner professional after your report your situation to the authorities.  We may be able to help you to minimize any potential damage.  Remember, NEVER send W2s, 1099s, tax returns or other private information via email; always use a secure file transfer when sending sensitive documents over the internet.  All R&G Brenner professionals offer free secure file transfer solutions to our clients.

April 15 Countdown & Last Minute Tax Tips

Tick Tock, TickTock...April 15th Deadline
Tick Tock, TickTock…April 15th Deadline

With the clock about to strike midnight on the 2013 Tax Year Filing season, the following is a quick list of tax tips for all you last minute filers out there:

April 15th Deadline

Yes, we all know the saying “Death & Taxes…”. And nothing drums up the cold sweats and association with taxes like the April 15th deadline. However, here is something that many taxpayers do not know: This deadline is only if you OWE taxes to the IRS.  If you are due a refund from the IRS, you actually have 3 full years from the April 15th deadline to claim and receive your refund before it becomes the property of the U.S. Government.  So, as long as you file your 2013 tax return by April 15th, 2017 you will get your refund.  There are of course, many reasons to file your 2013 tax return before the deadline.  It’s your money!  So don’t let the government hold on to it especially when they do not have to pay interest on it.  If you owe, and you do not have all of your tax documents ready, you can always file an extension.  Extensions must also be filed before the April 15th deadline.  REMEMBER: An extension is only an extension to file your final tax return, NOT to pay the taxes you owe.  Therefore, expect to send payment for the estimated amount of taxes you owe along with any extension.

Beware of IRS Scams

IRS & Tax related Scams have been steadily increasing over the last few years.  The most common scam going around is IRS impersonators contacting unsuspecting taxpayers and getting them to divulge their confidential personal information which can be used to open up credit cards in the victims name and/or to a file a fraudulent tax return in their name in order to steal refunds.  NOTE: The IRS will NEVER initiate contact with your via email, phone, fax or text.  They will always send you a written notification with instructions.  Even if you receive written communication, double check that the contact information on the letter matches the IRS contact information from the IRS website.  If you think that you are the target of a tax related scam, report it to phishing@irs.gov.

Sign Your Return & Mail To Correct Address

While this may sound trivial, many taxpayers forget to sign their tax returns!  Your tax return is technically not considered filed if it is not signed.  While the majority of tax returns are filed electronically, there are still many reasons why a return would be filed as paper.  Furthermore, if you had your return prepared by a professional, be sure that they signed the return as well.  While the taxpayer is ultimately responsible for what is listed on their return, a common scam that many “professionals” use to avoid any liability is to file a tax return as “self-prepared”.  In other words, the IRS thinks that the taxpayer prepared and filed the tax return themselves when in reality it was filed by a paid income tax preparer.  So be sure to check for all appropriate signatures!  Furthermore, be sure you are mailing your tax return to the right IRS processing center.  The IRS tends to change their mailing addresses annually and some  have separate mailing addresses for refunds and taxes due.  Here is a list of all the IRS tax processing centers.

Keep Your Tax Records

So you just sent in your taxes and now you can throw all of your W2s, 1099s, receipts & other tax related documentation into the fireplace, right?  WRONG! Depending on your situation, the IRS says to keep all of your tax records between 3 & 6 years.  So, just to be on the safe side, keep all of your tax records for at least 6 years.  Sometimes it could take years before the IRS notifies you with an issue and/or adjustment on your tax return.  If you plan on contesting changes in the IRS’ favor, you’ll need your backup documentation.  Recent budget cuts to the IRS will probably delay the notification process even more.

File With A Tax Professional

While millions of taxpayers are electing to forego using a tax professional in favor of filing themselves, the numbers don’t add up.  A couple of years ago R&G Brenner investigated The True Cost Of Preparing Your Own Tax Return and found that taxpayers who filed themselves were losing an average of $594 in refunds as opposed to using a Tax Professional.  Similarly, H&R Block is running ads this year that found 1 in 5 taxpayers who prepares their own taxes are not claiming all the deductions they are entitled to and are losing $490 in refunds.  Now there are many taxpayers who have very simple returns (standard deductions, no house, no kids, etc) and can easily file themselves.  However, the moment your tax return gets even a little bit complicated, you should seek professional help.  If you are going to Itemize Deductions (Schedule A), claim mortgage interest, have children (Earned Income Tax Credit), deduct business expenses (Schedule C), have rental income (Schedule E), or other complex tax positions, it is almost never a good idea to prepare your own tax return.

If you would like information about R&G Brenner, our services or if you need any tax assistance before or after the April 15th deadline, please feel free to contact us here, or call us toll free at (888) APRIL-15.

Lookout For These Top 5 Tax Scams

Beware Of These Top 5 Tax Scams
Beware Of These Top 5 Tax Scams

Each year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) puts out a list of common tax scams—dubbed the “Dirty Dozen”—to warn taxpayers. Ranging from identity theft to return preparer fraud, the list is intended to remind tax payers to use caution preparing, filing and discussing their annual taxes. Personal and other sensitive information can get into the wrong hands if the proper precautions aren’t taken. It’s wise to periodically review the IRS’ Dirty Dozen to keep apprised of scams. 

Identity Theft

It’s more common than you may think, and it’s on the rise. About 8.6 million households in 2010 were the victims of identity theft, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, up from 6.4 million households in 2005. Identity theft involves the unauthorized use of credit cards and checking accounts, as well as the misuse of personal information to open new accounts and loans or commit related crimes. The IRS lists tax fraud as a result of identity theft as a top concern in 2013. This can result when someone uses your personal info, such as social security number and name without obtaining your permission, and uses it to file a fraudulent tax return, thus getting a refund illegally. The IRS attempts to combat this type of identity theft through a comprehensive strategy involving three components: prevention of fraud, early detection and assistance for victims, preventing $20 billion in fraudulent refunds from being issued in 2012. 

False 1099 Refunds

The IRS lists False Form 1099 refund claims as another of its top scams. Many people believe that the federal government manages top-secret accounts for citizens of the United States and that taxpayers can tap into those accounts through filing a 1099-OID (Original Issue Discount). This is an illegal scam, and can net perpetrators penalties and jail time. 

Phishing

This scam takes the form of unsolicited email or a fake website claiming to be legitimate but that lures unsuspecting people in and encourages them to give up personal information about their finances. The thieves can then turn around and commit identity theft. One common way this occurs is through emails claiming to come from the IRS. The IRS NEVER contacts taxpayers via email to obtain personal info. Recipients of such emails should be aware it’s a scam and forward the email to phishing@irs.gov to protect themselves and alert the authorities. 

Offshore Income Fraud

Hiding income in offshore accounts remains one of the top scams reported by the IRS. Many individuals attempt to evade paying U.S. taxes by keeping their money in offshore banks, using wire transfers as well as debit and credit to get at the funds. Of course, there are legitimate needs for many people to have offshore accounts; however, taxpayers in these situations must comply with certain reporting and disclosure laws in order to operate within the law and avoid penalties, fines and jail time. 

Return Preparer Scams

According to the IRS, approximately 60 percent of taxpayers will consult with tax professionals and companies in 2013 to assist in preparing their returns. Although most of these professionals are honest, many are not. This often can result in refund fraud or identity theft, so the IRS cautions taxpayers to be especially diligent in researching the firm they hire to do their taxes. Keep in mind that your tax return is your legal responsibility no matter who prepared it.  Taxpayers should  check that their tax pro enters his IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and signs the return.  A common scam is for a tax preparer to file a tax return they prepare for a taxpayer as “Self-Prepared”.  This is illegal and any paid tax preparer who attempts this should not be used, and be reported to the IRS asap.

If you have encountered any other scams in regards to your tax return, please let us know in the comments section below.

2012 “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams

2012's Dirty Dozen

The IRS recently released it’s annual list of their “Dirty Dozen” tax schemes.  “Scam artists will tempt people in-person, on-line and by email with misleading promises about lost refunds and free money. Don’t be fooled by these,” warns Commissioner Douglas Stives.

Here’s what made the list this year:

 

1. Identity Theft

Topping this year’s list Dirty Dozen list is identity theft. In response to growing identity theft concerns, the IRS has embarked on a comprehensive strategy that is focused on preventing, detecting and resolving identity theft cases as soon as possible…The IRS is increasingly seeing identity thieves looking for ways to use a legitimate taxpayer’s identity and personal information to file a tax return and claim a fraudulent refund.

An IRS notice informing a taxpayer that more than one return was filed in the taxpayer’s name or that the taxpayer received wages from an unknown employer may be the first tip off the individual receives that he or she has been victimized…In 2011, the IRS protected more than $1.4 billion of taxpayer funds from getting into the wrong hands due to identity theft.

Anyone who believes his or her personal information has been stolen and used for tax purposes should immediately contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit.  For more information, visit the special identity theft page at www.IRS.gov/identitytheft

2. Phishing

Phishing is a scam typically carried out with the help of unsolicited email or a fake website that poses as a legitimate site to lure in potential victims and prompt them to provide valuable personal and financial information. Armed with this information, a criminal can commit identity theft or financial theft.

It is important to keep in mind the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information.  This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.  The IRS has information that can help you protect yourself from email scams.

If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov.

3. Return Preparer Fraud

About 60 percent of taxpayers will use tax professionals this year to prepare and file their tax returns. Most return preparers provide honest service to their clients. But as in any other business, there are also some who prey on unsuspecting taxpayers.

Questionable return preparers have been known to skim off their clients’ refunds, charge inflated fees for return preparation services and attract new clients by promising guaranteed or inflated refunds…In 2012, every paid preparer needs to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and enter it on the returns he or she prepares.

Signals to watch for when you are dealing with an unscrupulous return preparer would include that they:

  • Do not sign the return or place a Preparer Tax identification Number on it.
  • Do not give you a copy of your tax return.
  • Promise larger than normal tax refunds.
  • Charge a percentage of the refund amount as preparation fee.
  • Require you to split the refund to pay the preparation fee.
  • Add forms to the return you have never filed before.
  • Encourage you to place false information on your return, such as false income, expenses and/or credits.

4. Hiding Income Offshore

Over the years, numerous individuals have been identified as evading U.S. taxes by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or nominee entities, using debit cards, credit cards or wire transfers to access the funds. Others have employed foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or insurance plans for the same purpose…

While there are legitimate reasons for maintaining financial accounts abroad, there are reporting requirements that need to be fulfilled. U.S. taxpayers who maintain such accounts and who do not comply with reporting and disclosure requirements are breaking the law and risk significant penalties and fines, as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution.
 
Since 2009, 30,000 individuals have come forward voluntarily to disclose their foreign financial accounts, taking advantage of special opportunities to bring their money back into the U.S. tax system and resolve their tax obligations. And, with new foreign account reporting requirements being phased in over the next few years, hiding income offshore will become increasingly more difficult.

At the beginning of this year, the IRS reopened the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) following continued strong interest from taxpayers and tax practitioners after the closure of the 2011 and 2009 programs…This program will be open for an indefinite period until otherwise announced.

5. “Free Money” from the IRS & Tax Scams Involving Social Security

Flyers and advertisements for free money from the IRS, suggesting that the taxpayer can file a tax return with little or no documentation, have been appearing in community churches around the country. These schemes are also often spread by word of mouth as unsuspecting and well-intentioned people tell their friends and relatives.

Scammers prey on low income individuals and the elderly. They build false hopes and charge people good money for bad advice. In the end, the victims discover their claims are rejected. Meanwhile, the promoters are long gone. The IRS warns all taxpayers to remain vigilant.

There are a number of tax scams involving Social Security. For example, scammers have been known to lure the unsuspecting with promises of non-existent Social Security refunds or rebates. In another situation, a taxpayer may really be due a credit or refund but uses inflated information to complete the return. 

Beware. Intentional mistakes of this kind can result in a $5,000 penalty.

6. False/Inflated Income and Expenses

Including income that was never earned, either as wages or as self-employment income in order to maximize refundable credits, is another popular scam. Claiming income you did not earn or expenses you did not pay in order to secure larger refundable credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit could have serious repercussions.  This could result in repaying the erroneous refunds, including interest and penalties, and in some cases, even prosecution. 

Additionally, some taxpayers are filing excessive claims for the fuel tax credit. Farmers and other taxpayers who use fuel for off-highway business purposes may be eligible for the fuel tax credit. But other individuals have claimed the tax credit when their occupations or income levels make the claims unreasonable. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim and can result in a penalty of $5,000.

7. False Form 1099 Refund Claims

In this ongoing scam, the perpetrator files a fake information return, such as a Form 1099 Original Issue Discount (OID), to justify a false refund claim on a corresponding tax return. In some cases, individuals have made refund claims based on the bogus theory that the federal government maintains secret accounts for U.S. citizens and that taxpayers can gain access to the accounts by issuing 1099-OID forms to the IRS.

Don’t fall prey to people who encourage you to claim deductions or credits to which you are not entitled or willingly allow others to use your information to file false returns. If you are a party to such schemes, you could be liable for financial penalties or even face criminal prosecution.

8. Frivolous Arguments

Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. The IRS has a list of frivolous tax arguments that taxpayers should avoid. These arguments are false and have been thrown out of court. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law.

9. Falsely Claiming Zero Wages

Filing a phony information return is an illegal way to lower the amount of taxes an individual owes. Typically, a Form 4852 (Substitute Form W-2) or a “corrected” Form 1099 is used as a way to improperly reduce taxable income to zero. The taxpayer may also submit a statement rebutting wages and taxes reported by a payer to the IRS.

Sometimes, fraudsters even include an explanation on their Form 4852 that cites statutory language on the definition of wages or may include some reference to a paying company that refuses to issue a corrected Form W-2 for fear of IRS retaliation. Taxpayers should resist any temptation to participate in any variations of this scheme. Filing this type of return may result in a $5,000 penalty.

10. Abuse of Charitable Organizations and Deductions

IRS examiners continue to uncover the intentional abuse of 501(c)(3) organizations, including arrangements that improperly shield income or assets from taxation and attempts by donors to maintain control over donated assets or the income from donated property. The IRS is investigating schemes that involve the donation of non-cash assets –– including situations in which several organizations claim the full value of the same non-cash contribution. Often these donations are highly overvalued or the organization receiving the donation promises that the donor can repurchase the items later at a price set by the donor. The Pension Protection Act of 2006 imposed increased penalties for inaccurate appraisals and set new standards for qualified appraisals.

11. Disguised Corporate Ownership

Third parties are improperly used to request employer identification numbers and form corporations that obscure the true ownership of the business.

These entities can be used to underreport income, claim fictitious deductions, avoid filing tax returns, participate in listed transactions and facilitate money laundering, and financial crimes. The IRS is working with state authorities to identify these entities and bring the owners into compliance with the law.

12. Misuse of Trusts

For years, unscrupulous promoters have urged taxpayers to transfer assets into trusts. While there are legitimate uses of trusts in tax and estate planning, some highly questionable transactions promise reduction of income subject to tax, deductions for personal expenses and reduced estate or gift taxes. Such trusts rarely deliver the tax benefits promised and are used primarily as a means of avoiding income tax liability and hiding assets from creditors, including the IRS.

Source: IRS.gov