5 Commercial Fraud Prevention Tips
This March marks the 13th anniversary of Fraud Prevention Month. While the annual program focuses on protecting the consumer, businesses should take advantage of the time to better educate themselves on commercial fraud. A recent poll of Canadian businesses found that half of them know or suspect that they have been hit by fraud in past year.
There are numerous ways that business fraud can occur in a transaction. It can occur from business to consumer or consumer to business. It can come from internal staff or external threats. But the one familiar element is that the party committing the fraud has acted dishonestly. Business fraud is more common in some industries than others. Banking and financial services, government, manufacturing, healthcare, education, and the retail sector are all industries that struggle with fraud. However, no commercial enterprise, big or small, is safe.
As a business insurance and risk management expert, Park Insurance is here to provide you with some helpful tips that could save you from the impending threat of commercial fraud.
5 Fraud Prevention Tips You Need to Apply to Your Business Today
- Preparing for Commercial Cyber-fraud
It should come as no surprise that cybercrime headlines this list of commercial fraud prevention tips. But the fact that 50% of Canadian executives admit that their businesses were hacked last year is alarming. Credit card fraud, identity theft, account takeover and/or hijacking attempts are becoming so common that businesses are hiring full-time staff and/or consultants to monitor cyber security. Cyber-fraud occurs from internal (employees stealing corporate information) and external culprits alike and they are becoming more sophisticated with each passing month. Improved staff awareness, real-time software updates, enhanced backup protocol, and encrypted communications will help stave off sophisticated cyber-fraudsters. Follow these six tips to protecting your business from cyberattacks.
- Pre-Employment Screening
Internal fraud is one of the most common forms of business fraud and is certainly one of the most impactful. Not only can it go undetected and occur over a long period of time, devastating your business financially, it can ruin your corporate culture. Trust is immediately lost. From this point forward, institute an improved pre-employment screening program that includes intensive backgrounds checks and more thorough reference checks. If fraud is a significant concern (you operate in one of the higher risk industries mentioned in the introduction) consider using a professional service that specializes in pre-employment screening. Some human resource recruiters offer specialized screening.
- Improved Internal Accounting (w/Redundancy)
You may think that placing one person in charge of accounting, including the processing of payments and invoices, making bank deposits, handling petty cash and managing bank statements is smart because it provides a single point of responsibility. It’s not. It opens you up to internal fraud, should that employee/manager seek to do your business harm. Even if the individual can be trusted, they are at risk of being compromised. If they hold all of the chips, your business can be hit and decimated in one shot.
Instead, spread and/or rotate these duties amongst qualified staff. In addition, create redundancy when it comes to the accounting of all financials. This will allow you, for instance, to check duplicates of a month’s invoices and statements to ensure that the numbers match. Have separate parties check financial statements too, for added caution.
All of these improved internal accounting policies should be compiled and posted for all to see. If you do have an internal threat working within the company, they will be less likely to take harmful action if they know that these redundant checks and balances are in place.
- Encourage Whistleblowing
Whistleblowing may seem like a dirty word when it comes to fostering a trusting corporate culture, but in the end your staff should see that it is nothing to worry about – if there is nothing to worry about. Institute an official fraud reporting protocol for staff, vendors and even customers/clients to anonymously report suspected fraudulent activities. It is essential that everyone involved receives a clear document that explains what constitutes fraud. It must also state that the process should never be used to air grievances, which can happen when there is friction between employees. Reports should be backed by facts and evidence. Lastly, it must be made clear to employees, vendors, and customers/clients that all reports are regarded as confidential without reprisal.
- Secure Insurance to Hedge Business Risk of Fraud
For all of your efforts, fraud can still occur. You want to protect your business from this, hedging the risk of all damages that can come in the form of financial loss, liability, and innumerable other concerns. For a comprehensive and unbiased accounting of your existing policy, secure the services of an independent insurance broker with expertise in all forms of commercial crime and commercial liability insurance. Contact Park Insurance before your business joins the approximate 50% of Canadian businesses that have been hit by fraud.
Additional resources for business accounting tips are available here
“Can I deduct this?” When Americans sit down to fill out their income-tax forms on or before the April 15 deadline, that’s the question they’ll likely ask the most.
They may be shocked by how often the answer is “yes,” and the sheer variety of expenses they can deduct. Most people know that business-related items are usually tax deductible — no matter how odd. That could include body oil for a masseuse or professional body builder, says Dave Du Val, vice president of customer advocacy at TaxAudit.com, which is based in Sacramento, Calif. Ditto, free beer used for a sales promotion. But a recent survey showed that only 51% of more than 1,000 people surveyed understood relatively basic questions about their income taxes, and the estimated average $2,840 tax refund for 2017 likely does not include the refunds that people did not know they could claim.
Of course, most people know many charitable donations are deductible, but some people are especially watchful for deductions others might miss. Grafton “Cap” Willey, managing director at CBIZ Tofias, an accounting and professional services provider in Providence, R.I., helped a client who’d bought a house and land — and wanted to build a better house — write off the fair market value of the windows, lumber and other usable items from the property that he donated to a homeless charity. And documentation is critical. “Take a photo with your iPhone of that bag of clothes you donate, and get a receipt. That all counts as evidence.”
To help people think more broadly about the kinds of things they can deduct, here are five unusual tax deductions:
Context is everything when it comes to deductions, especially when expenses are being characterized as being for medical purposes. Johanna Turner, senior partner at Milestones Financial Planning in Mayfield, Ky., had clients who successfully deducted the full cost of a $40,000 swimming pool. “Their child had been injured in an accident,” she says. “They received doctor’s orders for swimming therapy.” The key here is making sure a doctor signs off on the deductions, Turner says. There are also deductions taken for hot tubs and pools as long as they, too, are doctor-prescribed, adds Megan Thompson, a certified public accountant at Thompson Accounting in San Jose, Calif. Upgrading your property for lifestyle or reselling, for instance, would not count.
This may be the most politically and ideologically divisive of all deductions. The IRS says: “You can include in medical expenses the amount you pay for a legal abortion.” So an abortion — which can cost from $500 to $1,000 — could be deductible if it was included with other medical expenses. Taxpayers can also include in medical expenses the amount they pay to purchase a pregnancy test kit to determine if they are pregnant, and the cost of a sterilization or vasectomy. When it comes to all medical expenses, you cannot include those that were paid by insurance companies or other sources, and the total medical expenses in question need to exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income (this falls to 7.5% for those who are 65 or over for all medical expenses).
“If you have gambling gains, you can deduct a large number of expenses to go to Vegas up to the point where it offsets much or all of the gains,” says Scott Bishop, director of financial planning at STA Wealth Management in Houston. You can deduct your losses, but no more than your winnings in that tax year. Gambling income includes winnings from lotteries, raffles, horse races and casinos, and fair market value of prizes such as cars and trips. “To deduct your losses, you must be able to provide receipts, tickets, statements or other records,” the IRS states. For casinos, you need copies of check-cashing records. Some states don’t allow deductions on gambling losses, however.
Service dogs and dog food
Man’s best friends can be another tax-deductible expense. “I had a client with a warehouse deduct the cost of buying guard dogs,” Bishop says. Their pet food may also be deducted. He is aware of one case where a person deducted the cost of transporting their six dogs as a work-related moving expense. Taxpayers may also include as medical expenses the costs of buying, training and maintaining a guide dog or other service animal to assist a person with physical disabilities. This includes any costs, such as food, grooming and veterinary care incurred in maintaining the health of the service animal.
Gender confirmation surgery
In 2010, the federal tax court ruled in favor of a transgender woman, Rhiannon O’Donnabhain, who had taken up a case against the IRS for refusing to allow a $5,000 deduction for $25,000 in medical expenses for gender confirmation surgery, those costs “not compensated for by insurance or otherwise, for medical care of the taxpayer.” In its ruling, the tax court said gender-identity disorder is widely recognized in diagnostic and psychiatric reference texts, and all three experts testifying in the case consider the disorder a serious medical condition, and the mental-health professionals who examined O’Donnabhain found that her disorder was a severe impairment.
Additional resources for business accounting tips are available here.
Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with the avalanche of government announcements on tax avoidance and evasion. This guide, produced by Jason Collins, a member of the CIOT’s Management of Taxes Sub-Committee, should bring tax agents, journalists and others with an interest in tax compliance up to speed with the rapidly changing landscape in this area
The 1st of January 2017 was a seminal date in the war against offshore tax evasion because it is the date on which financial accounts in existence in jurisdictions in the 'late' adopters of the Common Reporting Standard (CRS), will have to be reported, even if they are closed after this date.
Although the trigger dates were earlier for the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories (CDOTs) (1 July 2014) and early adopters of the CRS (1 January 2016), the late adopter countries are perhaps the most significant because they include the major financial centres of Switzerland, Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore.
HMRC received the data from the CDOTs in September 2016 and has begun the process of matching that data to information it already holds in order to decide who to investigate. The data pot will be enhanced by the receipt of the CRS early adopter data in September this year and late adopter data in September 2018.
The date of 1 January 2017 also brought the start of Finance Act 2016 penalties for enablers of someone else's offshore tax evasion or careless non-compliance. Penalties can be up to 100 per cent of that other person's tax liability.
It is worth noting here that the taxpayer will be entitled to mitigation of his or her own penalty if he or she provides information about any enabler.
Strict liability offence
HMRC is under pressure to prosecute more people for offshore tax evasion, and FA 2016 introduced a new 'strict liability' offence which may achieve this end. The offence will apply if a UK taxpayer fails to notify HMRC of his or her chargeability to tax, fails to file a return or files an incorrect return in relation to income, gains or assets in a non-CRS country and the underpaid tax is more than £25,000 per tax year. There will be no need for the prosecution to prove that the individual's actions were dishonest but the taxpayer can put forward a 'reasonable excuse' defence. The maximum sanction is six months of imprisonment. We do not yet have a definite date, but it is expected this will apply from April 2017.
As with the above, HMRC is also under pressure from the public to see more companies and partnerships prosecuted – in particular those who fail to prevent their staff and agents from criminally facilitating third party tax evasion. A new offence is being introduced in the Criminal Finances Bill and will be effective by September 2017 at the latest. Liability is again 'strict', but it will be possible to advance a defence that reasonable procedures were in place to try to stop the misconduct (or that it was not reasonable in all the circumstances to expect there to be a procedure in place). The offence is being introduced because under the current law a corporate will only be criminally liable if very senior management (usually board level) were involved or knew about the facilitation, meaning that it can be all too easy for senior management to let unscrupulous practices go on, provided they know nothing about them.
Tougher civil penalties
Despite bringing more prosecutions, most cases will continue to be dealt with by HMRC levying financial penalties rather than seeking a criminal conviction. The current maximum penalties for offshore evasion depend upon the extent that the UK has exchange of information arrangements with the jurisdiction connected to the non-compliance, with a maximum penalty of 200 per cent of the tax for the most opaque regimes. The standard penalty payable can be increased by up to 50 per cent where there has been a deliberate attempt to move assets in order to avoid exchange of information regimes (Sch 21, FA 2015).
In addition, a new 'asset-based' penalty is being introduced (Sch 22 FA 2016) for the most serious cases of evasion with an offshore connection. It is levied in addition to the standard penalties for deliberate behaviour. The asset-based penalty starts at the lower of 10 per cent of the value of the asset and 10 times the potential lost revenue related to the asset and is subject to mitigation. It is not yet known when this penalty will come into force, but it is likely to be sometime in 2017.
Disclosure facilities and 'Requirement to Correct'
The Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility (LDF), which despite its name could be used for irregularities in other jurisdictions, has been withdrawn and replaced with the much less generous Worldwide Disclosure Facility (WDF). The WDF offers no tax amnesty, penalty reduction or guarantee of non-prosecution and therefore provides little incentive for the hard core who have resisted the numerous previous settlement initiatives to regularise their position. The WDF requires the taxpayer to pay the tax, interest and a self-assessed reckoning of the penalties which apply.
Linked to this, Finance Bill 2017 will include new measures applying to a person with any undeclared tax relating to offshore matters as at 5 April 2017. The law will impose a special 'new' statutory requirement to correct the issue between 6 April 2017 and 30 September 2018. The issue is treated as corrected if the taxpayer takes certain steps, including formally bringing it to the attention of HMRC under the WDF, before the deadline.
A failure to correct by the deadline will lead to two things. First, the time limit applying to HMRC's powers to assess will be extended so that HMRC is given a further four years beyond the usual timeframes in which to discover and collect the under-declared tax.
Second, the old penalty regime will fall away and a new super penalty will be applied. The penalty is between 100 per cent and 200 per cent of the potential lost revenue (depending on the levels of cooperation). The underlying conduct giving rise to the non-compliance is irrelevant. However, there is a 'reasonable excuse' defence and provision for reduction of the penalty in special circumstances.
This super penalty can be imposed in addition to the asset–based penalty mentioned above. It is also subject to an increase of up to 50 per cent under Sch 21 FA 1015 if HMRC can show that assets or funds have been moved in a deliberate attempt to avoid exchange of information (see above).
Obligation to write to clients
Advisers who have provided tax advice to UK residents in relation to offshore accounts, assets and sources of income and financial institutions who have provided offshore accounts are required to send a letter to their clients enclosing a HMRC leaflet and reminding them of their obligation to disclose offshore income and gains. It will apply in respect of advice provided in the year to 30 September 2016 and there are exclusions. A useful exclusion for advisers covers the situation where all the adviser has done is prepare tax returns disclosing offshore income. Letters need to be sent by 31 August 2017 but advisers need to start working out which clients they need to contact, if they have not already done so.
Requirement to notify offshore structures
HMRC is consulting until 27 February 2017 on a proposed new legal requirement for intermediaries (both within and outside the UK) creating or promoting certain complex offshore financial arrangements to notify HMRC of the details and provide a list of clients using them. The measure aims to target arrangements which could easily be used for tax evasion purposes. It is proposed that the requirement should apply to arrangements in existence at 31 December 2016, rather than just new arrangements entered into after the new measure comes into force, in order to tie in with the start of CRS.
More tax is lost to onshore evasion or non-compliance than to offshore evasion and avoidance but it does not always attract the same level of public interest - for example a former minister for tax was vilified for making the very valid point about the scale of the tax loss from paying tradespeople in cash. Indeed, the largest single type of loss to the exchequer is from the 'hidden' economy - for instance those who fail to register for tax at all (known as 'ghosts') or fail to declare an entire source of income (known as 'moonlighters'). In 2014/15 (the latest figures available), 17 per cent of the tax gap (some £6.2bn) was estimated to be down to this type of non-compliance.
As with offshore evasion, HMRC has adopted a two pronged strategy to counteract domestic tax evasion. This involves a combination of 'encouraging' recalcitrant individuals to come forward and increasing HMRC's powers to obtain information from third parties who may provide the key to finding those who are non-compliant.
Recent 'encouragement' initiatives involve HMRC targeting areas where they believe there may be non-compliance. In the past HMRC has focused on specific industries, eg plumbers, solicitors and doctors, but over the last year it has launched campaigns targeting specific types of income that may be relevant to the population more generally, such as buy-to-let rental income and income from second occupations. These initiatives enable a voluntary disclosure to be made of previously undeclared income and generally offer reduced penalties, compared to the position if it is HMRC that discovers the non-declared income.
A more controversial aspect of the strategy to encourage non-compliant people to come forward voluntarily has been the use of 'nudge' letters. These letters to taxpayers reminding them of their obligations are sometimes not copied to agents, such as one that was sent out just before Christmas to those who had declared interest income on their 2014-5 tax return asking them to check the figures returned. It was not clear from the contents of this standard letter whether it had been sent randomly or to specific individuals as a result of HMRC receiving different information from banks and building societies about the interest paid. Anecdotal evidence from tax advisers suggests that the letter worried some individuals who had, in fact, complied with their obligations.
Increased HMRC powers
In relation to the second prong of the strategy, there were three consultations last year on additional powers to clamp down on the hidden economy. One consultation proposed extending HMRC's data gathering powers to enable it to collect data from money services businesses (for instance businesses that provide money transmission, cheque cashing or currency exchange services). As part of the 'Fintech' revolution, more and more people are buying bank services outside the traditional bank supply lines and HMRC has had to respond to try to ensure that the 'shadow banking' sector cannot easily be used to hide sources of income or wealth.
Another consultation proposed making access to public sector licenses such as licences for private hire vehicles, environmental health, planning and property letting conditional on registering for tax. As an alternative the government is considering measures which will effectively give financial services companies an indirect role in policing the hidden economy, by making access to business services such as insurance and bank accounts conditional on proving that you are registered for tax.
The third consultation document proposed tougher sanctions for those involved in the hidden economy, including higher penalties for those who repeatedly fail to notify chargeability, additional tracking and enhanced monitoring of taxpayers with a history of non-compliance, and strengthening the penalty regime where an immigration offence is also committed.
In this high-technology age, HMRC has invested heavily to keep up. It has spent a very large sum of money on a database, called 'Connect'. All information is fed into this data trove and reviewed in order to inform HMRC's deployment of resource to meet onshore and offshore risks, as well as identifying specific instances of non-compliance. The flip side is that as the country moves away from using cash, the traditional channels for the hidden economy are closing. Tax evasion is as old as the hills, but one wonders whether it has met its match.
A crackdown on tax evasion is probably only just ahead of a crackdown on avoidance in the political popularity stakes. In the eyes of HMRC, aggressive avoidance is no more acceptable than evasion and shares the feature that (because of their overwhelming success rate in challenging avoidance) tax is legally due but unpaid. This perspective has justified a barrage of measures in recent years.
Penalties for enablers of avoidance
The most contentious measure is the suggested imposition of penalties on the 'supply chain' in avoidance – not just the designers and promoters, but those who provide advice and who sell the arrangements to others.
A first consultation drew gasps from among the tax industry as it suggested penalties would be applied to any bank or adviser whose client was successfully challenged under, among other things, a targeted anti-avoidance rule. The penalty would be up to 100 per cent of the tax due from the client.
Thankfully HMRC listened to stakeholders' concerns about the breadth of the proposals and the draft legislation for inclusion in Finance Bill 2017 provides that the measure will only apply to 'abusive arrangements'. This uses the 'double reasonableness' test used for the general anti-abuse rule (GAAR) – arrangements which cannot reasonably be regarded as a reasonable course of action having regard to all the circumstances. The penalty will be capped at the fee received by the adviser/intermediary. It is proposed that the new rules will apply to activity taking place after Royal Assent is given to the 2017 Finance Bill.
Serial tax avoiders
A new 'serial tax avoiders' regime has been in force since 15 September 2016. It applies where a tax avoidance scheme is 'defeated' (either by the decision of a tribunal or court or by settlement with HMRC). Anyone who has participated in a scheme on or after 15 September 2016 can be issued with a warning notice which lasts for five years and imposes an annual obligation to notify HMRC of further schemes used, with enhanced penalties, possible 'naming and shaming' and restriction of access to tax reliefs if any schemes used within the period are defeated. A warning notice can be issued to those who entered into schemes before 15 September 2016 which are defeated on or after 6 April 2017, but then only the annual notification requirements apply and not the other sanctions.
Tied in with international measures and the fight against tax evasion and avoidance we have also seen a number of measures to increase transparency. These include the requirement since April 2016 for certain UK companies and LLPs to formally identify and keep a register of 'persons with significant control' over them and to provide this information to Companies House at least annually. There are also proposals for a register of people controlling non-UK companies owning UK real estate as well as a register of settlors and beneficiaries of trusts which generate UK tax consequences. Further details are expected this year.
Large businesses will also be required to publish their tax strategy online. This will include details of their attitude to tax planning and their appetite for risk. Country-by-Country Reporting, under which large companies have to formally break down where they make profits and where they pay tax, will also go live in 2017.
Clause 95 of the Finance Bill 2017 provides for a new penalty which will apply to anyone found to have claimed input tax on a transaction which they 'knew or should have known' was connected with a VAT fraud (the input tax claim thus being bad in law). HMRC say that the current VAT penalty regime (which identifies careless or deliberate errors) requires HMRC to specify whether they are alleging one or the other of actual and constructive knowledge for the purposes of the penalty, whereas they do not need to make this distinction for the legal test in respect of the tax itself. Under this new fixed 30 per cent penalty, liability is engaged irrespective of the type of knowledge. The penalty cannot be reduced for co-operation with HMRC and company officers can be personally liable.
Tax Avoidance Disclosure Regimes for Indirect Taxes and Inheritance Tax
The Government will revise the VAT avoidance disclosure regime (VADR) and widen it to cover other indirect taxes from September 2017. Among the proposals is to move the principal obligation to report schemes from VAT-registered businesses to scheme promoters and align the penalties for non-compliance with VADR obligations with those chargeable under DOTAS. The Government insists that it will reduce burdens as the focus for compliance shifts from all taxpayers to a much smaller number of promoters. HMRC plans to introduce a wider disclosure mechanism applicable to all IHT arrangements that are contrived or abnormal, or which contain contrived or abnormal steps. More details are to be included in the regulations.
Although the pace of change has already been very rapid, a significant number of the measures outlined above are due to take effect in 2017. This will give HMRC considerably more fire power in its battle against tax evasion and avoidance. Tax advisers need to be aware of the impact these changes could have on their clients and of the increasing number of measures which could catch the unwitting tax adviser.
Additional resources for business accounting tips are available here
If you’re rushing to get your tax return in the mail, take care when choosing your tax preparer. If you don’t, you could lose your refund and face fines or jail time if your preparer files a fraudulent return.
Tax preparer fraud was the focus of a March 1 alert from the National Consumers League (NCL).
“Getting caught up in a tax preparer scam will not just cheat you out of your refund and scam you into paying bogus fees, it can also expose consumer victims to other liabilities,” John Breyault, an NCL vice president, said in a statement. Those liabilities include hefty fines and even imprisonment associated with the criminal offense of filing a fraudulent tax return.
In February 2017 alone, tax preparers in New York, Nebraska and Louisiana were charged with tax fraud. And in 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice closed more than 35 tax return preparers’ operations because of fraud.
Tax preparer fraud also makes the Internal Revenue Service’s list of the “dirty dozen” tax scams for 2017.
How the scam works: Often, the tax preparer will falsify your earnings, claim credits for you that you didn’t earn or steal your refund by having it deposited into someone else’s account, according to the NCL.
To protect yourself, the NCL and IRS offer tips when choosing a tax preparer, including:
• Check for his or her Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). The IRS offers a tax preparer directory so you can check his or hercredentials.
• Refuse to sign a blank tax return.
• Steer clear if your preparer doesn’t require you to submit your W-2s.
• Avoid preparers who charge fees based on a percentage of your refund, or who claim they can get bigger refunds than other preparers.
• Avoid giving your Social Security number or tax documents when you’re just inquiring about a tax preparer’s service. Otherwise they might file a fake tax return in your name.
• Be sure to review your return before it’s filed, and make sure you get a copy of your return.
You also may cut your risk of fraud by getting free tax preparation help sanctioned by the IRS. If you make less than $54,000 a year, you likely qualify for free, in-person guidance through Volunteer Income Tax Assistance programs.
If you make less than $62,000 per year, you can get free online help through the IRS Free File program.
Tax preparer fraud isn’t the only thing to be on your guard against this year. Also making the “dirty dozen” are phone scams, in which fraudsters call up and impersonate IRS agents. These fraudsters claim you owe taxes and try to get you to cough up cash.
Between October 2013 and January 2016, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration received nearly 900,000 reports of such calls, and more than 5,000 victims paid more than $26 million to the scammers.
The fake agents often threaten to sue, arrest or deport you if you don’t pay using prepaid debit cards or wire transfers.
Other frauds on the “dirty dozen” list are phishing emails, which look as if they come from the IRS or a tax software company. If you click a link, you land on an official-looking website and are asked for personal information, which the criminals use to create false tax returns.
Identity theft also continues to be a major concern, with bad guys using stolen Social Security numbers to file fraudulent returns. While the number of identity theft tax cases has plunged, almost 238,000 cases were reported in 2016.
“It’s the second year tax return fraud has decreased,” Breyault says, “but they’re not going to be able to catch all of it.”
Additional resources for business accounting tips are available here.
Tax filing season is upon us. Soon you will be filing your paperwork and perhaps receiving a nice check — unless thieves file a return in your name first and falsely claim your refund.
Unfortunately, if a thief has your Social Security number and other relevant information, tax identity theft is very hard to prevent. Greg McBride, Chief Financial Analyst for Bankrate.com, notes that "somebody could have your Social Security number and they could have been sitting on it for a while... you would have no idea until they go and file a bogus tax return under your Social Security number. You only find out at the point where your legitimate return gets rejected."
While recent IRS efforts have resulted in a 50% drop in both confirmed fraudulent identity theft tax returns and new identity theft reports from 2015 to 2016, tax-identity thieves still falsely claim millions of dollars in undeserved refunds every year.
The IRS is attempting to help taxpayers be proactive by recognizing the signs of potential tax ID theft. The "Taxes. Security. Together" program urges taxpayers to take reasonable precautions and to work with the IRS whenever any activity occurs that suggests tax ID fraud.
Examples of suspicious activity include receiving tax–related documents that you did not request and should not receive, including receiving a bogus refund. Occasionally, information meant to be delivered to the thief will be sent to you by mistake. If you receive a tax document from an employer that you have never worked for, a tax transcript that you did not request, or a reloadable prepaid debit card that you did not expect, you should be highly suspicious of potential tax fraud.
You may also receive a letter from the IRS asking you to verify a suspicious tax return filed with your name and Social Security number. A greedy thief may try to claim a large refund or make a basic error in the return that compels the IRS to label the return as suspicious. When that occurs, the IRS will contact you to see if the return is legitimately yours.
If your return is rejected, start by immediately looking for any simple errors such as transposed Social Security numbers or confusion with respect to dependents — for example, your teenage son or daughter filed their own return claiming themselves when you have also claimed them as a dependent. If no errors are evident, you will have to deal with what McBride calls the "massive headache" of rectifying the situation.
McBride offers perhaps your best line of defense: "To whatever extent you can, try to file your tax return early." Beat the thieves at their own game and file as soon as you have the necessary tax documents from employers and financial accounts. However, since the thieves don't care if your information is correct or not, they have an inherent time advantage.
It's preferable to be preventative and extremely careful with your personal information. The IRS urges you to take reasonable and simple steps, such as securing your computer and mobile devices, using strong passwords, avoiding phishing e-mails, and not engaging in suspicious texts and calls from alleged IRS officials.
Make sure that you take similar precautions with your mobile and wireless connections. Never transmit personal information over unsecured Wi-Fi connections or to unverified websites.
With respect to tax fraud, the IRS is your ally. Neither one of you wants tax-identity thieves to succeed. Do your part, be proactive and vigilant, and help to make 2017 a difficult year for tax-identity thieves.
Additional resources for business accounting tips are available here.
Last week, a court approved an injunction requested by State Attorney General Maura Healey, aimed at stopping a Lowell tax preparer, Samuel Dangaiso, of Tax Enterprises, from doing business.
“We allege that this defendant filed more than $2 million in fraudulent deductions and pocketed tens of thousands of dollars of the falsified refunds,” said Healey. “This tax season, we will be watching for scam tax preparers and will take action to stop tax fraud in order to protect the public.”
The attorney general's office alleges that Dangaiso filed tax returns that included invented, unjustified deductions without the knowledge of his clients.
Dangaiso would then direct the full refund to his own bank account, pay the customer their expected amount and then keep the rest, Healey said.
The investigation revealed that he kept at least $150,000 in refunds from more than 300 returns since 2009.
The IRS strongly suggests that consumers check the qualifications and history of their tax preparer. The IRS maintains a directory of credentialed preparers that you can access through this website.
Additionally, the IRS said that consumers should never sign a blank return.
They should also double-check all routing numbers for bank accounts on their filings to verify that refunds will be sent directly to them and not to the preparer.
Additional resources for business accounting tips are available here
The Accounts Payable department is a prime target for fraud. Criminals looking to exploit your business take advantage of AP departments buried in paperwork to submit phony invoices and hope they’ll slip by as legitimate.
A single fraudulent invoice might not impact your company too much. However, over time invoice fraud can become quite a costly problem. Foiling invoice fraud is often frustrating, but implementing these tips will significantly reduce the risk of your company falling victim.
1) Employ 3-Way Matching
If you can match each invoice to a purchase order and receipt of goods, then you’re much less likely to pay a fraudulent invoice. Most fraudsters won’t bother fabricating three separate documents.
2) Watch Invoice Amounts
Amounts on invoices can provide clues that the invoice isn’t on the up-and-up. If your company requires additional review for invoices over $1,000 (for example), checks squeaking by right under that threshold (such as $999.98) should raise suspicion.
3) Keep Up Moral
Invoice fraud can come from inside the company or from an outside source. Happy employees are unlikely to commit fraud and more likely to catch fraud from outside sources. If they don’t have reason to complain, then they’re more likely to care about doing right by the company.
4) Check On Vendors
Fraudulent invoices are typically issued under fake business names or use a legitimate name but a fake address or bank account number. You’ll want to look up any new vendors to make sure they’re legitimate and find the address on Google maps. If the address is residential or a post-office box, that’s a big red-flag. Also, check-in with your existing vendors directly if their account information changes.
5) Track Invoice Activity
If you’re tracking invoice activity, you’ll be able to notice when something changes. For example, one vendor typically submits 5 to 10 invoices a month and suddenly you see 50 from them in a single month. It might be legitimate, but you’ll still want to get in touch with them and double-check.
6) Implement “Fuzzy Matching”
Duplicate payments are one way to commit invoice fraud – fraudsters submit a near-perfect copy of a legitimate invoice and hope no one notices one payment is going to a different account number. Sometimes they’ll also change date, invoice number, or amount. You’ll need a program that allows for “fuzzy matching” to catch near-duplicates as well as identical invoices.
7) Employ Automation
Automation in the AP department gives you the tools you need to more effectively implement all these other tips for preventing fraud. It’s probably the single most important step you can take to stop invoice fraud.
With NextProcess’ AP Automation Software, you instantly get detailed insight into everyday invoice processing. Our software automates invoice processing according to your custom specifications. It can catch many sorts of suspicious invoices on its own and gives you the tools you need to more easily track invoice activity and check on vendor information. On top of that, automation software is easy to use and frees up employees for more interesting work. It’s a win-win for the company and everyone in the AP department.
Additional resources for business accounting tips are available here.