Avoid Becoming a Victim of Identity Theft

Several years ago I began receiving rejection letters in the mail from credit card companies that for cards I had not applied.  I immediately became very concerned and started to make calls to the credit bureaus.  It didn’t take long to discover my identity had been stolen and someone was opening accounts and making large purchases in my name.

It took more than six months and many letters and phone calls to get this cleared up.  One of the stores even had video footage of the people using a card with my name and still did not believe it wasn’t me.

Identity theft can happen to anyone.  The following are some guidelines to help avoid becoming a victim of identity fraud. If you have already become a victim, see our Tips for Victims.

• Beware of Fake IRS E-Mails –
the IRS does not initiate communication with taxpayers through e-mail and only or extremely rare occasions to they call.

• Don’t carry a Social Security Card
, extra credit cards or a passport unless the documents are needed.

• Memorize your Social Security Number
, any personal identification numbers and passwords. If you write them down, do not record them on anything in your wallet or purse. When creating a password or PIN, do not use digits from your Social Security number, telephone number or date of birth.

• Sign new credit cards upon receipt.
 Save all credit card receipts and match them against your monthly bills. Never throw them away intact in a public trash container.

• Never loan out your credit card.
 Report lost or stolen credit cards immediately.

• Never give out personal identity information, especially Social Security or credit card numbers over the phone, unless you know the person or business and you initiated the phone call.

• Beware of phone or mail solicitations
 disguised as promotions offering prizes or bargains designed solely to obtain your Social Security or credit card numbers.

• Don’t leave mail out for pickup
 and do have a locked mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after delivery.

• Shred all mail, bills, receipts and financial documents
 with your name or identification numbers on them, especially pre-approved offers of credit. Thieves have been known to fish identities out of trash bins.

• Look over monthly credit card and bank statements carefully.
 Follow up if any charges or withdrawals appear suspicious.

• Order credit reports from the three major credit bureaus at least once a year
 and more often if you have been a victim. Check every line of information in your file for fraudulent activity and other discrepancies.

• Pay bills electronically when possible.
 Follow up with creditors if you do not receive a bill on time because it could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and has changed the billing address.

• Remove your name from the marketing lists
 of the three major credit reporting bureaus to limit the pre-approved offers of credit you receive.

• Keep the number of credit cards you use to a bare minimum.
Cancel all unused credit card accounts.

Even with these precautions you can still be a victim.  However,  minimizing the information someone can still will improve your chances.

How and Accounting Pro Can Help Your Small Business Boom

One of the most positive qualities that many small business owners share is a burning desire – an insatiable willingness – to “do it all.” It’s what separates entrepreneurs from employees in the first place. An employee is more than willing to set out on the path that someone else has carved for them. An entrepreneur has a need to carve a path for themselves.

Unfortunately, this mentality can also get even the most passionate small business owners into a bit of trouble – particularly when it comes to their finances. Being able to balance your own checkbook and running the finances of a small business are NOT the same thing, nor should they ever be treated as such. To that end, the importance of finding the right accounting professional to help support your small business as it continues to grow and evolve cannot be overstated enough.

There are a number of essential ways, in particular, that an accounting expert can help your small business.

When You’re Just Starting Out

Perhaps the most important role that an accounting professional will play in terms of your small business takes place when you’re just starting out. One of the most common mistakes that many business owners make involves selecting the wrong business entity – a small problem that can have major ramifications when tax season rolls around. A accounting pro who is intimately involved with the makeup of your business from a basic level can help make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

Along the same lines, an accounting professional can also help make sure that your accounting system is properly set up in the first place. They can make sure that you’re picking the right accounting system that actually supports your long-term goals for your business and can create a chart of accounts to offer superior visibility into money coming into and out of your organization.

The Day-to-Day Grind

Another one of the hugely invaluable ways that an accounting expert can help your small business comes by the small, yet critical, decisions they make on a daily basis. A financial expert can help give you greater visibility into cash flow (including accounts payable and accounts receivable), for example. Cash flow and other instability issues are one of the major reasons why most small businesses fail in the first place, and having the right person at your side can help you avoid them altogether.

An accounting professional can also help make sure your security controls are properly set up and executed, particularly in terms of factors like compliance. Remember that we’re living in an era where the average cost of a data breach has ballooned to almost $4 million. If the security aspect of your finances is not properly accounted for, it could be putting your entire business at risk. Even one small data breach could expose the personal records of multiple clients, something that opens the door to things like lawsuits, and that could eventually close the door on everything you’ve worked so hard to build.

Other Benefits

A financial professional will also play an important role when it comes to growing your small business. Remember that both an inability to scale up as fast as you need AND growing your business faster than you can sustain are additional reasons why many small businesses fail. Because such a large part of your growth and expansion pace has to do with personal finances, it stands to reason that bringing someone into the fold who can leverage their years of experience to your advantage is a very good idea.

A financial expert can help you raise money – particularly helpful if you’re getting ready to bring a new product or service to market. If you ever decide that this chapter of your life is closed and that it’s time to look for new opportunities, these professionals can also help sell your small business as well. Selling a business is a process filled with potential mistakes just waiting to happen, and the expert hand of someone who has been in this position before is something that you literally cannot put a price on. It isn’t just an investment in your organizational ability – it’s an investment in the future of your business as a whole.

In the End

The fact of the matter is that there really is no “one size fits all” approach to small business accounting. Every business is a little bit different, which will require a certain level of care and finesse when it comes to finances in particular. Only by consulting the help of a professional as early on in the process as possible will you be able to avoid the normal pitfalls of running a small business and create a financially stable foundation from which to work.

If you are considering starting a new business, it may be appropriate to consult with this office before you get too far through the process. Please call for assistance.

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Ever since my children began to drive I gave them some of the same advice that my dad gave me. One was to never to bring the car home empty and always fill up when the tank was about a quarter full. Recently, my daughter (and I hope she doesn’t see this) ran out of gas on the interstate. And as she sat there for nearly two hours waiting for the roadside assistance truck to pull up, those words of advice ran through her head. When she got home I ask her if she thought she would wait until the gas light came on again before getting gas.  Her answer was that she had, unfortunately, learned her lesson the hard way.

I would think at my age that I wouldn’t have to learn lessons the hard way.  But, recently I too have had to learn something the hard way. Hopefully, these suggestions below might prevent someone else from having to learn this lesson the hard way.

Almost 5 years ago had a disagreement with a company. I believe I went above and beyond what would be considered normal to resolve the issue. However, no resolution seemed to be forthcoming. I informed the company what my position was and what my actions were going to be. Obtaining no objection, I followed through on what I stated I was going to do. Now, five years later, they are approaching me again.

Here are four suggestions:

  1. Document. Document – With any business transaction, there is no such thing as not enough documentation. Documentation should contain the party or parties that were present, what was discussed, the date, and the time.  In my case, I actually went to this company’s office and documented where those offices were located, who I spoke to, as well as the date and time that I was there. I also documented what the next steps were to be at the end of that conversation.
  2. Rewrite Your Notes – Taking notes during a conversation can be difficult. Taking the time after the meeting while the conversation is fresh to rewrite the notes can help insure that all the important points are covered.  If there are some items that are unclear, don’t hesitate to speak with your contact and get it cleared up.
  3. Stay Organized – Keep the notes in a chronological order. If documentation such as forms, logs and agreements were discussed, insert a copy of those documents in the notes where they were discussed. This way they can be easily retrieved when necessary.
  4. Save. Save – if documentation is a key component, then so is saving. Your documentation should be saved at least until the statute of limitations has expired, which is usually seven years. This is the mistake I made. After about three years, I had not heard anything, so I assumed that this matter was over and I destroyed my documentation. Now, five years later, I’m scrambling to try and remember and piece together the sequence of events. With digital storage and the cloud, there is no reason not to save this information in a form that takes little space, is easy to retrieve, and can be kept for an adequate amount of time.

Unfortunately, I guess we all learn things the hard way from time to time.  But for me, I won’t get caught by this one again.

Meet Bukky!

Oyebukunola (Bukky) Ande graduated in 2003 from Fisk University with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and a Master’s in Business Administration from Winthrop University in 2014. She started her professional career working in Mortgage in 2005 before proceeding to a CPA firm in 2008 where she worked as an Auditor for 2 years.  In 2010, she started working as a Tax Accountant.

Bukky has experience preparing tax returns – Individual and Corporate, providing bookkeeping services and representing clients with taxpayers.  She is a Certified Public Accountant in South Carolina (2012) and North Carolina (2014). She currently resides in Charlotte, NC with her family.

You Have Never Asked for That………..

There are days, usually on Mondays, that I would really like everything to standstill for just a little while.

However, that just does not happen.

Everything seems to be in a constant state of flux.  Unfortunately, the Income Tax system is a good example of that constant change.  At least, it seems that way to me as I deal with it from year-to-year.

This year appears to be no exception for changes. While there are not too many changes to the actual tax laws there is a great many changes to the documentation that is being required. The Internal Revenue Service is putting an emphasis on security and deduction verification this year.  Therefore, we will be asking for things we never asked for before such as a copy of an individual’s driver’s license or a copy of their Social Security card. This year will be asking for those things because we are being required to prove people’s identity.  We cannot file a return without the driver’s license number.

In addition to documenting people’s identity we are also being required to document the existence of children. Therefore, if the taxpayer qualifies for a child tax credit, we are now required to ask for proof of the child’s existence such as copies of school records, healthcare provider records, etc. This one really drives me crazy. I’ve been in business for 15 years and some of these kids I know.  They have come in with you at times when you’ve come to ask questions or pick up your tax return. Therefore, I know they exist, but I still have to ask the questions and document the answers.

For dependents that are in college, depending on the information that we receive, we may have to do additional verification for them as well.  If a tuition tax credit is being claimed, that information cannot even be entered if we do not have the 1098 – T.

I can only imagine how annoying this seems to the taxpayer. It places an additional burden on the tax preparer and we are subject to penalties and fees if we don’t comply with the new documentation standards. And ,as you would expect, all this additional work takes more time and drives up cost.

Hopefully, this will give you a heads up as to what we will be asking this year for documentation. Some folks who showed up early have already said, “You have never asked for that before”.

And they are correct, but we have to ask for it now.  So, please bear with us.