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Published: Tuesday, December 20, 2016 @ 11:30 AM
Does it feel like you’ve had more than your fair share of robocalls this year? If so, you’re not alone. Phone scammers were extra busy in 2016, making a record 10.2 billion robocalls to Americans, offering them everything from fake cruises and gift cards to opportunities to support bogus charities, according to a new report from Hiya, a company providing caller ID and call-blocker apps.
The same holds true for holiday scams, which saw an increase of more than 113% over last year, according to Hiya’s data.
“By taking advantage of the holiday ‘giving’ season, scam calls aimed at defrauding consumers are on the rise,” Jan Volzke, vice president of reputation data at Hiya, said in a prepared statement. “Whether preying on the spirit of gifting or the desire to get away after a rocky 2016, scammers are continuing to inundate the phone lines with fraud. We hope our data can educate consumers about these malicious and annoying calls so they can get back to enjoying their holiday season.”
These are the top phone scams for 2016, according to Hiya.
Scammers are using telemarketing techniques to lure victims into giving out Social Security and credit card numbers, as well as bank account information.
2. Other Robocalls
Robocallers have been dodging regulations against their illegal activity by frequently changing or “spoofing” their caller ID so they appear to be calling from a local number.
3. Extortion/Kidnapping Scam
These scammers call random phone numbers and demand payment for the return of a “kidnapped” loved one.
4. IRS Scam
The caller pretends to be with the IRS and demands money for unpaid taxes or will trick the recipient into sharing private information. Remember, the IRS will never, ever call you about any taxes you owe.
5. Debt Collector
These scammers offer “solutions” to help victims pay off credit card and loan debt. Victims will give personal and financial information, enabling scammers to steal their identity and money.
Scammers call victims offering prizes if they take a survey. However, before redeeming the prize, credit card information must be provided to cover “shipping and handling.”
7. Vacation Scams
Victims are notified that they have won a free vacation, but discover they have to pay a number of fees, provide a credit card number and are pressured to sign up for travel clubs to “earn” more trips.
8. Lucky Winner Scam
Scammers alert victims that they are the lucky winner of a contest or lottery. To redeem the prize, victims must provide personal and/or financial information.
9. Tech Support
Scammers pretend they are calling from a reputable tech agency (i.e. Microsoft or Dell) and claim that they have been notified of a virus on the victim’s computer. Scammers demand payment for services and third-party access to the computer to obtain private information.
10. Political Scams
During election season, scammers call victims requesting candidate donations, verifying voter registration, claiming they need to re-register to vote, or requesting that they take an election survey.
How to Help Avoid Being Scammed
To keep yourself safe from these and other scammers, the FBI recommends you exercise caution in how you respond to any call from someone you aren’t familiar with in order to help protect yourself from the damage of identity theft and fraud.
They urge you to:
Always be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls.
Never give money or personal information to someone with whom you don’t have ties and did not initiate contact.
Trust your instincts: If an unknown caller makes you uncomfortable or says things that don’t sound right, hang up.
If you think you or a loved one may have been a victim of a phone scam, it’s a good idea to check your financial accounts, credit reports and credit scores frequently for signs of fraud, like unauthorized transactions or unfamiliar entries. Be sure to immediately address these issues by notifying the authorities and even considering a credit freeze. Checking your bank activity for any problems is something you can do daily, but you can also get two free credit scores on Credit.com, updated every 14 days, to help you quickly spot some signs of identity theft, like that aforementioned sudden drop in scores. You can also get your free annual credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com.Related Articles
Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 @ 6:13 PM
— ‘Tis the season for taxpayers to get a nice chunk of change back from the IRS.
It’s tempting to spend it all, but financial experts say there are steps you should take to shore up your financial future.
Some who usually pay off debt will splurge this year.
“I’m going to Japan in April so I’m actually going to add that to my travel fund, so I’m really excited about it,” said Olivia Morris from Centerville.
Those who used to spend their return?
“I just plan to save it. We are about to start a family, so I plan on saving it for the baby,” said Toska Ivory of Dayton.
It’s important to have a plan for tax return funds or any financial windfall, said Lisa Roberts, Graceworks certified housing and credit counselor.
Pay urgent bills first then save.
“If it’s something that is urgent -- a bill that’s going to be a roof over your head, utilities, pay them,” said Roberts, “after that you definitely want to put it into savings.”
WalletHub has these additional tax refund spending recommendations:
As for splurging?
Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 3:42 PM
— Not every fraud artist is a sketchy identity thief or faux Nigerian prince from the dark corners of the internet. You might end up committing fraud entirely by accident if you don’t pay careful attention this tax season.
Individual slip-ups usually result from negligence rather than ill intent, but even white lies fall into the latter category. The IRS is serious about nipping fraud in the bud — for 2017, it added 37 new steps to its authentication process to safeguard against it. For you, that means 37 new reasons to check and double-check your return before filing your taxes — plus seven more from GOBankingRates. Get the deductions and credits you’re entitled to, but make sure you do it legally. So that you don’t accidentally commit tax fraud, check out these seven common mistakes to avoid when filing taxes.
1. Filing a return with missing or incorrect information
It’s crucial to file complete and accurate tax returns — or you might be committing tax fraud. For example, if you paid thousands of dollars to attend college this year, you might be eligible to claim an education tax credit to reduce your taxes.
If you claim an education credit, however, don’t forget to include Form 8863 — for education credits — with your return. Forgetting to include vital data like your Social Security number — or entering it incorrectly — also can create headaches.
How to avoid it: Professional tax preparers or tax preparation software can come in handy. Often, tax software with built-in e-filing won’t let you submit your forms unless all your necessary data is included.
Potential penalty: Typically, if you forget or make a mistake on your return information you’ll experience delayed processing of your tax return. Keep in mind that omissions prompt the IRS to take a closer look at your forms — and maybe even target you for tax fraud. If omitted data changes your status from owing money to getting a refund — or even just makes your refund higher — your mistake could be interpreted as willful failure to supply information, which comes with penalties of up to a year in prison, $100,000 in fines or both.
2. Incorrectly claiming the earned income tax credit
Claiming the earned income tax credit when you’re not eligible for it is a major audit trigger. If you qualify for the credit, which is designed to offset the burden of Social Security taxes for low-to-moderate earners, you can get credited up to $6,318 — but you must meet specific requirements. When filing your 2017 taxes, the EITC income limits range from $15,010 to $53,930, depending on your marital status and number of qualifying children.
How to avoid it: Don’t file for the EITC if you have investment income exceeding $3,450. Child support, alimony, welfare compensation and workers’ compensation benefits do not contribute toward earned income. Your eligibility might fluctuate from year to year, so read the requirements closely each tax season.
Potential penalty: This issue could result in a delay, denial or required payback of your EITC refund — and possibly a ban from claiming the EITC for anywhere from two to 10 years.
3. Abusing tax shelters
Chances are, a tax shelter that sounds too good to be true likely is. Often, accountants and wealth planners tempt taxpayers with vague or deceptive tax shelter “opportunities,” or offer “captive” insurance structures that are at odds with your company’s genuine needs, duplicate your existing coverage or provide coverage for totally implausible events. Your barbershop in Indiana probably isn’t going to get attacked by tigers, so don’t use that excuse as a tax shelter.
How to avoid it: If you’re in over your head on tax shelters, seek out an independent opinion. Be especially wary of ambiguous micro-captive insurance tax shelters, which have been highlighted for the past three years on the IRS’s annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams.
Potential penalty: “These scams can end up costing taxpayers more in penalties, back taxes and interest than they saved in the first place,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. In addition, the IRS can count this as tax avoidance or evasion, which might net you fines of up to $250,000 and jail time of up to five years.
4. Claiming the wrong deductions
If you think it’s clever to take the family along on a business trip just to deduct the vacation as a business expense, think again. When April rolls around, forget about claiming your family’s side trip to Disneyland.
Some commonly misused deductions — likes writing off groceries that you didn’t explicitly buy for clients or employees — are just plain mistakes. But if you knowingly make false statements on your return, expect trouble.
How to avoid it: Again, tax prep software helps prevent errors — it typically shows the deductions for which you qualify. If you’re going “old school,” explore the IRS website, which offers tips for deducting business expenses and full breakdowns of what you can legally deduct. Key IRS documents like publications 535, 334 and 538 detail eligible business expenses and offer tax guides for small businesses.
Potential penalty: If you’re guilty of fraudulent activity or false statements, you could be looking at some combination of imprisonment of up to three years and fines of up to $250,000.
5. Taking inflated deductions
Your chances of being audited are lower than ever: This is the sixth straight year during which numbers have dropped and in 2016, only 1 million Americans were audited, according to CNBC. That might make it tempting to claim your whole basement as a home office deduction, but don’t.
Even if the chances of getting caught are low, inflated deductions are still illegal. “You don’t want to roll the roulette wheel and have the little white ball land on your number,” said Koskinen.
How to avoid it: Don’t stretch the truth. If you think you’ll have trouble paying what you owe all at once, work out a payment plan or installment agreement with the IRS via its Online Payment Agreement Tool or Form 9456.
Potential penalty: For an incorrect filing like this, the IRS can hit you with a $5,000 fine, a fee of 20 percent of the disallowed amount or a penalty in the amount of 75 percent of the full income tax you owe. You might even face an IRS criminal investigation.
6. Failing to report income
It’s easy to not claim all your tips — in fact, the IRS estimates up to 40 percent of tips go unreported. But don’t get too comfy — failing to report your income to the Internal Revenue Service might count as tax evasion or failure to supply information.
How to avoid it: If you’re a server, keep a daily record of all tips you receive and use Publication 531 to report your tip income. Whether you’re a server or not, don’t fall victim to common misconceptions — use the most recent version of Publication 525 to keep track of what the IRS considers taxable and nontaxable income.
Potential penalty: For not reporting tips, you’re subject to a penalty equal to 50 percent of the Social Security, Medicare, Medicare or Railroad Retirement taxes you owe on unreported tips. Regardless of your industry, tax evasion penalties can cost you up to five years in prison and up to $250,000 in cash.
7. Falling victim to tax preparer fraud
“Choose your return preparer carefully because you entrust them with your private financial information that needs to be protected,” said Koskinen. About 60 percent of U.S. taxpayers use tax professionals to prep their returns — and the vast majority of those pros are honest, according to the IRS. It’s possible, however, that the preparer you rely on might dupe you into claiming credits or deductions you’re not entitled to in order to increase his own fee.
How to avoid it: When choosing a tax preparer, always confirm his IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number and professional credentials via the online IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications.
Published: Thursday, January 04, 2018 @ 11:05 AM
— Many companies have announced they will provide first quarter cash bonuses to employees following last month’s passage of the tax reform bill.
» RELATED: What to expect from the new tax legislation
While some may see this as money to spend immediately, PNC offered five things to think about for how to use the funds:
FIVE FAST BUSINESS READS
Published: Thursday, December 28, 2017 @ 9:12 AM
— With the recent tax changes, the usual end-of-year assortment of tax moves is likely more complicated in 2017.
These changes affect everyone from single mothers to millionaires to most sports fans who buy event tickets.
“I’d love to tell you that everyone has a handle on this,” said Mark Bradstreet, founder of the Bradstreet & Co. Inc. accounting firm, which has offices in Centerville and Xenia. “I’m not sure anyone does. I would be suspicious if someone said they did.”
Prominent among the changes: The 1,000-page legislation recently passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump caps at $10,000 the amount of state and municipal taxes that taxpayers can deduct from their federal tax bill.
Some filers — those with high property tax bills who aren’t using the standard deduction — are scrambling to pre-pay property taxes for the coming year before the cap takes effect, according to national reports. In 2017, that deduction has no ceiling.
While the new tax bill lets local municipalities decide whether to allow taxpayers to pre-pay property taxes, it blocked filers from pre-paying local sales and income taxes.
Bradstreet said it’s OK to pre-pay real estate taxes for most taxpayers. Montgomery, Greene and Warren counties will allow filers to pay property taxes early, he said.
“They’re all more than happy to take your money,” he quipped.
If you fall under the alternative minimum tax (AMT) — and if you don’t itemize your deductions — paying property property taxes early won’t help, Bradstreet said.
“For most people, though, it’s ‘no harm, no foul’ pre-paying it this year,” he said.
But an IRS announcement was triggering more confusion early Thursday.
In a notice, the IRS said pre-paying property taxes may work, but only under certain conditions. Real estate taxes may be paid in 2017, but the taxes must also be assessed in 2017.
William Duncan, a certified public accountant with Dayton firm Thorn, Lewis & Duncan, said taxpayers should check with accountants to see if they will fall under the AMT in 2017.
Duncan called the tax changes “wild.” With newly lowered tax brackets and higher standard deductions, he said he has clients with seven-figure incomes who will opt to take the standard deduction this year instead of itemizing.
That’s the first time in his career he has seen that, Duncan said.
The standard deduction for married individuals filing jointly is $24,000, noted John Venturella, a Dayton shareholder with Clark Schaefer Hackett.
“I think you are just going to see a lot of people using the standard deduction,” Venturella said.
The new law introduces some wrinkles for University of Dayton Flyers or other college and professional sports fans, too.
If you buy University of Dayton basketball tickets in the lower arena and pay for a seat license, current law lets you deduct 80 percent of that as a charitable deduction. That benefit is going away in 2018, Duncan said.
The university is inviting ticket-holders to pre-pay for seat licenses in 2017, Duncan said, which Adam Tschuor, associate athletics director for revenue and partnerships at UD, confirmed.
“It may be to your advantage to pay for next season’s ASP (Arena Seating Program) donation or beyond before Jan. 1, 2018,” the university said in a letter sent to ticket-holders just last week. “These payments would still be tax deductible under existing tax law.”
Tschuor said the university has always allowed fans to prepay their “ASP donation in all the way up to the conclusion of the announced ASP cycle.”
Another change: Your tickets for UD, Wright State, Ohio State or Cincinnati Reds or Bengals games will no longer be tax-deductible as a business entertainment expense.
“If you’re a businessperson and you want to take clients to the UD game next year, you’re not going to be allowed to take a tax deduction for the entertainment value of those tickets,” Duncan said.
For businesses, Duncan said it’s important this year to try to defer whatever income you can, push it to 2018, and pay the expenses you can in 2017.
Most accountants scoff at the notion, pushed by the bill’s proponents, that it has simplified the tax code. For higher-income earners in particular, as well as many small businesses, tax law remains at least as complex as ever. And the bill has injected a new layer of uncertainty because so many changes are temporary and could be reversed in a few years.
Donating to charities
December is a critical fundraising month for charities. Many people make year-end gifts for tax reasons, or to extend the spirit of Thanksgiving and generosity to those less fortunate. Here are a few dos and don’ts when it comes to charitable giving.
DON’T succumb to high-pressure, emotional pitches. Giving on the spot is never necessary, no matter how hard a telemarketer or door-to-door solicitor pushes it. The charity that needs your money today will welcome it just as much tomorrow – after you’ve had time to do your homework.
DO think before you give. If you are solicited at the mall or on the street, take a minute or two to “think.” Ask for the charity’s name and address. Get full identification from the solicitor and review it carefully. If you decide to donate, don’t give cash. Write a check made payable to the charitable organization, not an individual.
DO check out the charity carefully. Make sure you feel comfortable with how your money will be spent. Don’t just take the word of someone else; even good friends may not have fully researched the charities they endorse. Go to www.give.org to verify that a charity meets BBB Wise Giving Alliance’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
DON’T assume that only “low overhead” matters. How much money a charity spends on the actual cause – as compared to how much goes toward fundraising and administration – is an important factor, but it’s not the whole story. A charity with impressive financial ratios could have other significant problems such as insufficient transparency, inadequate board activity and inaccurate appeals.
SOURCE: Better Business Bureau