Posts Tagged ‘scams’

Protect Yourself From Fake Charity Scams

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Making A Donation

Charity Scams - Ohio CP A Firm

Would you be able to spot the charity scam? Even if you are 99 percent certain the check you are about to write will go to a well-respected nonprofit organization, it makes since to ask yourself a few questions. Read on to find out which ones.

From identity theft and tax fraud to criminals finding ways to hack into your company’s network, we are learning every day that it’s simply not safe to let your guard down – for anyone or anything. Unfortunately, that mindset should apply when you are considering gifting a charitable donation as well.

Some fraudsters, in an attempt to prey on the generosity of strangers, have begun to solicit funds for fake charities particularly during and immediately after tax season. But you can shut down these scams by asking yourself these critical questions.

Read also: Join The Fight Against Identity Theft & Income Tax Fraud

Is this the charity I know and love or is it a spin off?

We are a sucker for the brands we know and love, and criminals will invoke similar names, attributes, branding to trip you up and get you to write that check. Even if you are 99 percent certain the check you are about to write will go to a well-respected nonprofit organization, it makes since to conduct a quick search online to remove all doubt. Two resources to consider are:

  • The Exempt Organization Select Check Tool – this search tool is designed to help you determine the legitimacy of the not-for-profit in question by providing users with information about the organization’s federal tax status and filings.
  • Guidestar – this online resource is great for users who want to find out about the validity of tax-exempt organizations as well as other faith-based nonprofits, community foundations and other groups that are typically not required to register with the IRS.

Do nonprofit organizations ask for personal information?

Don’t make it easy for a fraudster to steal your identity by willingly providing them with your Social Security Number. Legitimate nonprofit organizations will never need your SSN to complete a transaction and they should never need to retain any of your personal information for their records – this includes passwords.

Should my donation be in the form of a check or is it OK to give cash?

Yes! For your own security, and tax purposes, be sure to establish a paper trail. The best way to do this is to avoid making any type of cash donations. Instead, every time you give money to a charity, consider using a check or credit card to establish proof of the transaction. Not only is it important to establish a paper trail as a safety measure, it will help you when to go to claim the contribution on next year’s tax return.

I’m still not sure if it’s a valid nonprofit organization?

If the questions above don’t provide you with the reassurance you need, reach out to a trusted advisor who can help you identify whether a particular charitable organization is reputable or not while giving you pointers to help you protect your hard-earned dollars as well as your identity.

 By Maribeth Wright, CPA (Cambridge office)

Check out these articles to learn to learn about other fraud scenarios taxpayers should know about.

Stop Criminals From Hijacking Your Identity With These Top 5 ID Theft Prevention Posts

Then & Now: Data Security In America Since The Target Breach

Malware Threat Spreads To Smart Phones

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Dude, You’re Getting … Hacked

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

Could Your Computer Make You A Target For Fraudsters?

Dell Computer Hack | Rea & Associates | Ohio CPA Firm

Learn how to keep your computer safe from this new scam.

There is a new scam making the rounds and if you have a Dell computer you could be at risk.

KnowBe4 recently published a blog informing users of the newest security issue, which has apparently left owners of Dell computers vulnerable to scammers who have been able to capture their computer’s unique tag ID (the unique sticker on your desktop or laptop) from Dell’s database.

Read Also: WARNING: Tis The Season To Practice Safe Online Shopping Habits

Fraudsters proceed to call potential victims and attempt to gain access to their personal computer by claiming that there is a problem with their computer – the stolen information is then used to establish credibility. Once the fraudster convinces their victim to grant them remote access to their desktop or laptop to “fix” the problem, the scam is complete and the security of your personal information has been compromised. In other words, your personal information (such as credit card numbers, banking information, Social Security number, contact information, etc.) is no longer personal.

Dell has said that the company is investigating the issue but, at this time, offers little to no explanation for the alleged breach. Rather, the company is quick to point customers to this October 2, 2015 post advising of tech support phone scams.

According to the KnowBe4 blog post, this scam is similar to a Microsoft tech support scam where fraudsters call PC users with a similar request – to be allowed to gain remote access to a computer to fix an alleged problem.

“End-users gullible enough to give access to their workstations (usually via remote software), are billed hundreds of dollars on their credit card but the scammers, of course, don’t fix anything – in some cases their PC’s are infected with ransomware until they pay up.”

Protect Yourself

This is a great time to educate yourself and your employees about ways to keep your company’s data, computers and other devices safe. For example, if you do get a suspicious call, refrain from providing any information to the caller. Instead, insist that you will call them back. When you do return the call, use a phone number you know to be accurate or visit the company’s website for the phone number. Never call back the number that shows up on your caller ID. Another way to determine if the number is legit is to search the number in Google. This is a fairly accurate way to determine the validity of the call.

Have you been a victim of identity theft? Read on to start recovering today.

It seems that a new scam pops up every week. Fortunately, education and a little common sense is the key to your ensuring your safety.

Would you like help putting controls in place to protect your business from becoming victimized by a opportunistic hacker? Email Rea & Associates and request to speak with a member of our IT audit team. For more tips and insight, take a look at the related articles below,

By Steve Roth, IT Director (New Philadelphia office)

Want more security tips for your business, check out these posts:

Stop Criminals From Hijacking Your Identity With These Top 5 ID Theft Prevention Posts

Then And Now: Data Security In America Since The Target Breach

Who Is That Email Really From?

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WARNING: Tis The Season To Practice Safe Online Shopping Habits

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015
Cyber Security - Ohio CPA Firm

Keep your online Holiday shopping secure with these five tips from KnowBe4.

While it may be the most wonderful time of the year, cyber criminals are looking for ways to stuff their own stockings – at your expense. The holiday season is also a busy time of the year for scammers because, in general, more money is being spent and more people are clicking through cyberspace for the best deals and tracking their purchases. KnowBe4 recently published a blog about the top five scams shoppers should be on the lookout for, and I wanted to pass these on to our readers. Consider the following information to be an early gift from me to you, and hopefully your bank account can welcome the New Year unscathed.

Read Also: Malware Threat Spreads To Smart Phones

1. Post-Thanksgiving Madness (otherwise known as Black Friday and Cyber Monday)

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, which means shoppers are already planning their early-morning shopping strategies. Sure there are great deals up for grabs, but there are also scammers looking forward to feeding on the hype in the hopes that you will let your guard down. Believe it or not, it can be pretty easy to mistakenly fall for those offers that appear to be too good to be true simply because we have become conditioned to believe that these deals are part of the overall allure. Tip: Before completing the transaction, visit the retailer’s actual website to make sure the deal is valid. 

2. Don’t Miss This Deal – Your Facebook Friend Didn’t

Just because one of your friends shared a coupon or voucher on Facebook or another social media site, doesn’t mean it’s legit. In fact, hacked social media accounts are pretty common. Scammers like this approach because they know that you are more willing to take the bait if the scam comes from somebody you trust. If one of your friends is guilty of passing along some of these not-so-helpful posts, give them a call or send them a text to find out more. Chances are, you will be the one helping them out by letting them know that their account has been compromised. 

3. What Do You Mean ‘There’s A Problem’?! 

You’ve shopped, dropped and paid for two-day shipping and it looks like you will have your gifts in time for the next family gathering. But then your inbox gets hit with an urgent message from UPS or FedEx notifying you that there may be a problem with the delivery of your package. Fortunately, the email includes a link for you to click on to get the issue resolved. STOP! This is a common phishing scam. Scammers will often use this tactic in the hopes that you will click on the link. Before you know it, your computer has been infected with a virus … or worse – ransomware.

4. Click Here For A Refund 

Similar to the UPS/FedEx scam identified above, this tactic is another attempt to get the unsuspecting consumer to click on an infected link. In this scenario, you might receive an email from a major online retailer – Amazon, eBay, etc. – with the message that there’s a “wrong transaction,” which requires you to click on a link to secure your refund. Instead of a refund, when you click on the link you will receive the gift of a security breech instead. Clicking on these links simply opens the door for scammers to access to your personal information, which will then be sold to the highest bidder and used against you later.  

5. Use The Force Against Phishing Scams 

Wouldn’t it be nice to win tickets to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens when it is released on Dec. 18? Sure, but given what you know now, would you be willing to take the risk and click on the link in your email to find out if the offer is real? Scammers use a variety of tactics to get you to make a mistake. This scam, for example, is another way popular culture is being used against unsuspecting victims. 

Remember, whether it’s a deal, contest, sale, or any other type of offer, if it looks unbelievable or questionable (even if it appears to have been sent from a trusted source), don’t click on the link or open an attachment. If you have doubt, delete! KnowBe4 also offers readers two other great tips to keep your private information and your bank account safe 365 days a year:

  1. Never use a debit card online. Cyber criminals can (and will) wipe out your bank account in seconds once they gain access. You can protect yourself by using a credit card.
  2. Never use your credit card to shop when your computer is connected to an insecure public Wi-Fi. All online shopping should always be done on over a secure, private internet connection.

By Steve Roth, IT Director (New Philadelphia office)

Want to learn more ways to keep your computer and personal information safe? Check out these articles:

Who Is That Email Really From?

Who’s Phishing Your Data Today?

How Much Is Your Data Worth To Criminals?

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How To Recover From Identity Theft & Refund Fraud

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015
How To Recover From Identity Theft & Refund Fraud

Have you been (or suspect you’ve been) a victim of identity theft and refund fraud? Rea & Associates recently compiled a variety of information that will help you recover from this nightmarish scenario.

Suspecting, and then confirming, that you’ve had your identity stolen is a nightmarish scenario. It combines one of your worst fears, losing your wallet or purse, with all of the work of replacing the things that were lost. It can be so overwhelming you might be wondering: “Where do I even start?”

An increasing number of identity thefts are first identified when a thief attempts to file a tax return on your behalf and claim a federal or state tax refund. To help you navigate some of the issues you may be confronted with, we recently released a compilation of documents and resources.

The documents that are included are intended to help you navigate some of the issues you may be confronted with if you find that you’ve been an identity theft and fraudulent tax return victim.

Read “How To Recover From Identity Theft & Refund Fraud

Beat The Identity Thieves

The guidance includes a variety of valuable information for those who have been (or suspect they’ve been) a victim of identity theft and refund fraud. The following is a brief synopsis of information included in this guide.

The IRS has provided a short list of items for you to complete, which is substantially similar to the items the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) covered in its longer, checklist-style guidance.

  • The primary item to complete for the IRS is Form 14039 which initiates the IRS fraud protection procedures.
  • Also included is a form letter, one of several, the IRS may send to a taxpayer if tax return fraud is suspected to be occurring on the account.
  • The IRS has published a number of articles related to identify theft and how to protect yourself. A master page with links to all these topics is included in this packet. You may also check out some of our recent articles on the topic, which can be found in the “Related Articles” portion of this post.

The process of reporting fraud in Ohio is similar to the IRS procedures.

  • Ohio also sends form letters to the taxpayer.
    • Ohio recently added an identity quiz for roughly 50 percent of taxpayers requesting a refund. This letter simply asks the taxpayer to complete a quiz specifically used to prove their identity. Note: This request doesn’t indicate that your identity has been stolen (unless you haven’t filed your tax return for the year yet).
    • If the Ohio Department of Taxation suspects fraudulent activity on the account, the taxpayer will receive a second letter that will indicate these suspicions.
  • Ohio includes an affidavit (Form IT TA) that must be filled out to initiate their protection procedures, similar to Federal.

The FTC is the primary federal government agency dealing with identity theft.

  • The FTC has put together a very detailed, checklist to help you with the identity theft process. The guidance includes information on most forms of identity theft – of which tax identity theft is just one. While this may be more information than you need, if the fraud has gone beyond your tax returns and includes false credit activity (or you are concerned this may happen), this guide will be very useful for you.
    • The guide includes a wealth of information, such as sample letters and a variety of websites and contact information to relevant organizations that can help you. It also guides you through the process of making a police report in response to the theft of your personal information.
  • Note: The IRS and the FTC generally do not share data with each other. Therefore if you have completed the IRS identify theft notification procedures, don’t assume that the FTC, credit bureaus, etc., are also aware of your situation.

Check Your Mail, Not Your Caller ID

Remember, the first contact taxpayers will have with the IRS regarding any issue will be in the form of an official mailed letter – not a phone call. These scammers appear to be determined to steal your money and/or your identity and reports of these types of scams continue to be on the rise. By educating yourself, your friends and your family, you are taking a proactive stance against these criminals.

If you would like to learn more about how you can protect yourself against, and recover, from Identity Theft & Refund Fraud, click here to view our compilation of documents and resources. You may also email Rea & Associates for more information.

By Joe Popp, JD, LLM (Dublin office) and Lesley Mast, CPA (Wooster office)

 

Related Articles

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Is It A Charity Or A Scam?

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

Remember when writing a check to a charity left you with a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment? Unfortunately that feeling has been replaced with vulnerability and uncertainty as soliciting for fake charities has become a common way for scammers to prey on the generosity of strangers.

Remember when writing a check to a charity left you with a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment? Unfortunately that feeling has been replaced with vulnerability and uncertainty as soliciting for fake charities has become a common way for scammers to prey on the generosity of strangers. Before you tear that check from your checkbook, take another look at the “Pay to the Order Of” line. That person who just spent the last 15 minutes explaining why your donation is critical to their organization might have less-than-admirable intentions.

Every year the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) warns taxpayers about what it considers to be the “Dirty Dozen” of tax scams. The annual report identifies schemes that appear to be more prevalent during filing season. And while you may be inclined to use some of your refund to help a worthwhile charity, the IRS reminds taxpayers to remain vigilant against scammers “masquerading as a charitable organization to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors” – particularly this time of year when scammers appear to be more active.

If you are approached by somebody who claims to be soliciting money for charity, here are a few tips to ensure that your money will be used for a worthwhile cause.

What’s In A Name?

Sometimes fake charities will adopt a name that’s similar to one you are sure to recognize and consider to be a respected organization within your community or nationwide. Even if you are confident that the not-for-profit you are about to donate to is reputable, a quick online search can remove any doubt. The IRS provides access to a search tool designed to help the public identify valid charitable organizations. You can also find registered 501(c)(3) organizations on Guidestar, an online tool that provides users with data and information about tax-exempt organizations and other faith-based nonprofits, community foundations and other groups typically not required to register with the IRS.

Keep Personal Information Private

Nonprofit organizations do not need your Social Security Number to complete the transaction, nor do they need to retain it for their files. So if someone claims to represent a charity and asks for any of your personal information (including passwords) – don’t give it to them! Scammers use this information to steal their victim’s identity. Protect yourself from fraud and remember to keep your personal information private.

Where’s The Proof?

When you make a decision to donate to a tax-exempt organization, make sure to have proof of the transaction. For your own security – and for tax record purposes – you should never make a cash donation. Use a check or credit card every time you give money to charity. Doing so not only proves that you made the donation; it will help you claim the contribution on next year’s tax return.

Ask An Expert

A trusted advisor can help you identify whether a particular charitable organization is reputable or not and can help you make the most of your donated dollars. Email Rea & Associates for more information.

By Maribeth Wright, CPA (Cambridge office)

 

Related Articles:

Beware Of Small Business Wire Transfer Scam

When Scammers Demand That You Pay Up, IRS Says You Should Hang Up

Theft Safeguards To Cause Tax Return Delays In Ohio

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When Scammers Demand That You Pay Up, IRS Says You Should Hang Up

Monday, August 18th, 2014

More than 1,000 American taxpayers have collectively lost about $5 million as a result of a recent phone scam that has been reported to be active in virtually every corner of the nation. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reminds everybody to be vigilant, to never give personal financial information to anybody over the phone, and to report instances of phone scams to the IRS and/or to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).

According to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, “Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail. A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment. This is not how we operate. People should hang up immediately and contact TIGTA or the IRS.”

To date, more than 90,000 complaints regarding the scam have been made to the IRS and TIGTA.

Signs of An IRS Phone Scam

A media release, sent Aug. 13, reports that scammers will use fake names and IRS badge numbers, are able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s social security number, and spoof the IRS’ toll-free number on caller IDs so that the calls appear legitimate. Victims reported that they were threatened with jail time or driver’s license revocation if they refused to comply with demands. After hanging up, scammers call back claiming to be local law enforcement or a DMV representative. The second phone call is supposed to reinforce their original claim and demands.

Don’t Be An IRS Phone Scam Victim

  • If you think you might owe taxes or that there may be an issue with your taxes, call the IRS directly at (800) 829-1040. An authorized IRS representative can help you determine if you have a payment due.
  • If you get a suspicious call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and you know that you have no IRS issues, report the incident to TIGTA at (800) 366-4484. You should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use its “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Be sure to add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.
  • Don’t let scammers catch you off your guard with questions about your tax history. Call your CPA and be confident about whether you owe money to the IRS or not. When it comes to your financial security, take a proactive approach.

Email Rea & Associates if you’re ever unsure about anything you received from the IRS, whether it is a letter, a phone call or an email. We can help you determine if the inquiry is legitimate.

By Maribeth Wright, CPA (Cambridge office)

 

Looking for other articles on how you can protect yourself and your business? We recommend these:

How Can I Protect My Business From A Data Security Breach?

Are You Secure? Cyber Security Targets Employee Benefit Accounts

How Do You Protect Yourself From Identity Theft?

 

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How Do You Protect Yourself from Identity Theft?

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

“Interested in credit card theft? There’s an app for that.”

Those were the recent words of Gunter Ollmann, a technology security consultant. To Mr. Ollmann’s point, identity theft is getting easier and easier to perpetrate. Identity thieves are using the internet to find victims and steal their private data.  But, the use of technology swings both ways; consumers are increasingly using it to protect themselves and their identities.  Here are some on- and offline steps you can take to protect yourself from those trying to gain access to your data: (more…)

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Is This Really A Message From The IRS?

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

It’s that time of year when unsuspecting taxpayers receive suspicious emails, phone calls, faxes or notices claiming to be from the IRS. Many of the scams use the IRS name or logo to appear more authentic. (more…)

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