Continuing IRS Impersonation Scam

In the past we have published other information concerning the scam where the telephone caller is impersonating an IRS agent and demanding money to be sent for back taxes. As the general public becomes more informed about various IRS scams, the scammers are becoming more creative, bold and threatening.  

The U.S. Treasury Department released a statement in October announcing that they are making progress. In the past y ear they have been successful in prosecution of some individuals over the past year.  The inspector general, General J. Russell George stated that this summer a ringleader was sentenced for than 14 years in federal prison.  However, there are still thousands of contacts each month to individuals claiming to be IRS agents and demanding money. 

Some of these scams hit close to home. One of our clients recently called us telling us about the threating and disconcerting call she received.  The caller knew some personal information.  According to the Inspector General it is possible for them to know the last four of your social security number, they might actual give you an IRS agent badge number, can make caller ID appear as if it is from the IRS, and can send bogus emails to support their scam.  During this telephone call the scammer demanded that she go to the bank immediately and transfer money to avoid having their business and personal accounts levied and/or immediate arrest.  The client managed to stall long enough to drive to the sheriff’s department and hand the telephone to the officer.  While this may have worked in this particular situation there are other recommended actions issued by the Inspector General.  

Here is a list of five things to consider. 

  1. The IRS does not call taxpayers.   They do everything through the U. S. postal service. If you receive a call from someone claiming to be an IRS agent hang up even if they have some personal information that makes them sound legit. It is best not to engage in any conversation with them.
  2. If you get a call claiming you owe money and you think you might, hang up and call 800-829-1040. An IRS agent will help you with payment questions.
  3. If you don’t owe taxes, fill out the IRS Impersonation scam form on TGTA’s website, www.treasury.gove/tigta.
  4. The IRS never asks for personal information by e-mail, text, or any form of social media. You should forward emails to phishing@irs.gov. DO not open any attachments.
  5. Be aware of other unrelated scams such as lottery sweepstakes winners and solicitations such as debt relief that claim to be from the IRS.

 It pays to be suspicious of any calls demanding immediate payment. If you have questions or concerns about any dealings with the IRS it is best to call them directly.  You might have to wait awhile to reach an agent but then it might be worth it if it saves you from getting scammed.

Can We Talk?

The late Joan Rivers would use that question to begin a comedic dialog about something serious. It would bring roars of laughter as she used comedy to talk about a delicate topic. I am certainly not even close to a Joan Rivers but I doubt even she could find humor in this topic. 

Charleston 2

 

 

Recently, my daughter and I were visiting Charleston. One thing we made a point of doing was to pay our respects to the individuals that lost their life at the Emanuel AME Church. We were both very moved by the memorial that had accumulated there and the number of people who were still paying their respects. 

 

 

 

Charleston 3

 

While standing there my mind wondered back in time trying to understand how as a country we could still carry so much prejudice and hate. I was raised in the south but I can’t remember ever considering color. Even when desegregation of the schools began I was confused by the hostility. Yes, I knew all about the South’s history with its slavery, civil war, Sherman’s march to the sea, and carpetbaggers. But that was history. As a country we had learned from it and had moved on or so I thought. 

 

Charleston 1The town I lived in desegregated the teachers first. I remember my first African American teachers that came to our school. I had a history teacher that reminded me of Richard Prior. He was almost as entertaining and one of my favorites. He made history fun. Then there was the chemistry teacher whose afro was almost as high as he was tall. He ran around the room with enormous energy making smoke and blowing up stuff. I remember the African American students that came the following year and the fights in the hall. I remember the race riots in our town and a business that my best friend’s father owned, their only source of income, and how afraid they were that it was going to get burned down. 

My point with all of this is that I was raised in a time and place where I could have been taught to hate people of color but I wasn’t. Throughout my work career I have hired many people of color and paid them the wage that went along with that position. I didn’t raise my children to see color but people. 

I don’t believe I am unique with my beliefs or actions. However, all we hear from are those that carry hatred in their hearts. Where are all the others that don’t see color, any color, whether black or yellow or red or white? Where are the voices of the people that only see people? Isn’t it time we make a statement? By the looks of all those people who paid their respects at the Emanuel Church in Charleston there a many of us out there.  

When I graduated from college I was about one in eight female graduates in the entire business school graduating. I began my work career in what had been considered a man’s world. I can’t tell you the number of meetings I sat in where I was the only female in the room. I have had a taste of discrimination due to sex and it isn’t fun. For years I had to fight and claw my way up. I worked harder than my male counter parts for every promotion. 

There are many of us that have been discriminated against and hated for color or sex or religion or any number of other things. We are not famous but we fought the fight that needed to be fought on a daily basis. Where are you people? Isn’t it time that we are heard from too? Isn’t it time that America knows that there is more of us then the Dylann Roof’s of the world?

2015 IRS Data Breaches

IRS Data Breaches

 When someone has come to me with several years of IRS issues and limited information for those years, I have suggested we begin by obtaining a transcript from the IRS.  These transcripts contain all the income information (things like W-2’s and 1099’s) that have been issued to an individual and reported to the IRS.  They also contain some deduction information such as mortgage interest which has been reported as well.  Lenders especially mortgage lenders will frequently request a transcript.  The purpose is to verify that the tax return submitted with the loan application is the one that was actually filed. 

In the past these requests had to be submitted to the IRS in writing, mailed in, and received by mail.  Within the past two years, the IRS has made these requests available via their website.  When applying for a transcript online, there are several questions that are asked to help verify the individual’s identity.  The questions were specific enough to the individual, frequently referred to as “out of the wallet questions”, that it would seem difficult for someone other than the individual to get past the security to obtain other identifying information.  These “out of the wallet questions” would pertain to addresses or employers from several years ago such as your first employer or a childhood residence. 

However, this week the IRS said Tuesday that the Get Transcript application had been hacked.  Approximately 104,000 taxpayers’ accounts were accessed out of 200,000 attempts to access this data.  This occurred from February to May.  They believe that “the criminals had to already have stolen Social Security numbers, names, addresses, and other personal identifiers available and then they had to have enough personal information for each taxpayer to be able to get through the personal-related questions” (Cohn, 2015). 

Since the criminals already had enough personal information identity theft was not the purpose of the hack.  The purpose is believed to obtain basic tax information in order to file better fraudulent tax returns and steal the refund.  While refund fraud is of concern the IRS is more concerned that personal information such as Social Security numbers and personal information is in the hands of criminals.  The individuals will receive a notice from the IRS advising them of this fact. 

What Can We All Do? 

As a tax preparer, we are attempting to get the word out about these data breaches.  

The IRS will be sending out letters to the affected taxpayers. 

Individuals should monitor their credit closely.  Using a credit monitoring service can help.  

Be aware of the information that is being posted on social media.  “The hackers apparently made use of data-mining and analysis technology to find information that could be entered into the IRS’s ‘Get Transcript’ app and get past the IRS’s filters.  They’re getting the information from other hacks, doing things like scraping social media” (Cohn, Tax Practice, 2015). 

Keep virus protection programs up to-date and insure that it monitors for malware that might be downloaded with other applications. 

Fortunately or unfortunately we can’t all fall off the grid and go back to only face-to-face dealings and cash.  Just as you would secure your wallet or purse when going out, consider how you secure your personal information when going out in public electronically.

 

Works Cited

Cohn, M. (2015, May 26). Accounting Technology. Retrieved from Accounting Today: http://www.accountingtoday.com/news/tax-practice/irs-detects-massive-data-breach-in-get-transcript-application-74709-1.html?utm_campaign=daily-may%2027%202015&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&ET=webcpa%3Ae4450341%3A2713542a%3A&st=email

Cohn, M. (2015, May 29). Tax Practice. Retrieved from Accounting Today: http://www.accountingtoday.com/news/tax-practice/irs-gets-better-at-detecting-identity-theft-74736-1.html?utm_campaign=daily-may%2029%202015&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&ET=webcpa%3Ae4465578%3A2713542a%3A&st=email

Beware of These Four Scams!

Recently, a North Carolina state trooper addressed my Rotary club and his topic addressed public safety in our area.  He particularly warned of several scams that are occurring locally.  They were rather disconcerting to me and I immediately thought they needed to be passed on to you.

  1. Beware of the door-to-door vacuum salesman. Local gangs have “hired” individuals to go door-to-door pretending to be vacuum salesmen. They are dressed nice, usually in suits, and have picture IDs. However, they are there just to scope out the place for their “employer”. Sometime later when the residences are out the scammers will return and rob the home.
  • Beware of calls from Microsoft. Residences are receiving calls from individuals stating that they are from Microsoft. These callers claim that the computer(s) in the home have a virus or malware and offer to fix it for them. They request the IP address for the computer. With this information, the caller is able to access the computer and steal all the information it contains which usually includes bank and credit card account information. In no time the bank accounts are drained. Several things to remember when receiving these types of “helpful” calls are:

 

    1. Companies’ such as Microsoft do not make telephone calls.
    2. A company that you do not currently have a service agreement with does not call and offer to provide that service especially for free.
    3. Legitimate companies would allow you to call them back to verify their existence and/or point you to a web site to obtain a customer service number.
  • Beware of roofers after a storm. Individuals pretending to be from a roofing company are offering to inspect your roof for storm damage, claim that there is storm damage, and that they can process the claim through your insurance company. They require a deposit upfront in order to proceed. Once the deposit is given the homeowner never sees the roofer again. There are many legitimate roofing companies in the area. If there is possible damage after a storm all of them will inspect for free and begin work after they have contacted the insurance company. Any deductible is paid by the homeowner once the project is completed. In these cases it is best to obtain a referral. We know several really good companies and would be happy to pass this along.
  • Beware of calls from the IRS. This scam is nationwide and its purpose is to steal peoples’ identity and refunds. Like Microsoft the IRS does not make telephone calls. They only send out letters and ask you to call them.  

 

Some would like to say that we live in a different world than our parents or grandparents.  It is currently more automated and the internet presents us with different challenges.  However, I remember my grandmother talking about the scammers during the great depression pretending to be hoboes and marking the houses they wanted to return to with “X’s”.

The rule of the day then and now is to be careful in your dealings and think before reacting to any unsolicited solicitation.  

The Woes of Tax Season

One would think that something that happens every year during the same time each year would become routine.  But the time from January 1st to April 15th, that which we call Tax Season, is never routine.  Each season takes on a flavor of its own each year. 

This year has been no exception.  The general public is probably unaware of all the different issues that are encountered each day.  Count your blessings.  As the deadline gets closer and closer and the issues tend to mount it becomes increasingly difficult to accomplish what the government has commanded us to do each year. 

This year we all have to deal with the Affordable Care Act with each tax return.  Extra questions and documentation has to go into each return whether insurance was bought on the exchange or through employment or individually.  There has been some push back when we have asked these questions which is understandable.  They are new and to me seem invasive.  However, they are required in order to complete a return.  Then there is the frustration from those that are getting penalized for not having insurance or underestimating their income and have to pay back some of the subsidy. 

Then a few weeks ago, TurboTax suspended access to their website due to fraudulent activity.  After about twenty-four hours it was back up and running again.  Several states stopped accepting returns from TurboTax users during this time.  In a news bulletin released today, the government has begun an inquiry into this situation.  Stealing people’s identity and their refund is becoming another security issue. 

In another news release, a new survey indicates that 70 percent of those surveyed were concerned about the “safety of their data when using desktop computers to file their state and federal tax forms” (Cohn, 2015).  With the increase in data security issues it is understandable that these concerns have increased over the years. 

At the risk of sound self-serving, data security is something that we are concerned about and attempt to be diligent at keeping current.  We have moved to a secure portal to transfer files when sensitive data is included.  Many banks and insurance companies use this same method.  The data that we transfer to state and federal agencies is encrypted.  Passwords are updated regularly and all computers have firewalls.  As we have seen from recent breaches with big retailers hackers can get into just about anything.  However, we will make it as difficult as we can for them.  

While these issues have been heightened with this tax season, there are those that do reoccur.  One of the most frustrating one for all of us pertains to those that express concern over the cost of a return especially when it is “so easy.  You just put the information into your computer.”  Very few returns we receive are easy.  Most have some sort of issue that needs to be considered when preparing the return.  Besides the actual preparation of the return there are multiple hours of education that occurs each year prior to tax season.  There are the data security issues that are considered and most times new processes or programs that have to be obtained, installed and learned.  And there are the multiple registrations and fees which are paid to be able to file returns.  

But it does boil down to the old joke about the locksmith.  I’m sure you know the one.  It goes:  A bank president locked his keys in the vault one day.  The bank president calls a locksmith to come open the vault.  The locksmith comes and in about 15 minutes he has the vault open and hands the bank president a bill for $500.  The bank president protested about the fee stating that he had only been there for 15 minutes.  He hands the bill back to the locksmith and says I need this itemized before I will pay this.  The locksmith takes the bill and writes on it $50 to drill hole and open the vault; $450 to know where to drill the hole.  

Got to love those locksmiths!      

 Works Cited

Cohn, M. (2015, March 9). Accounting Today. Retrieved from http://www.accountingtoday.com: http://www.accountingtoday.com/news/tax-practice/intuit-gets-us-government-inquiries-over-tax-filing-software-73893-1.html?zkPrintable=true