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Fraud Alert: Identity Theft Fraudsters Targeting Small Businesses

In recent years, we have seen a marked increase in the amount of identity theft cases due to our increased use of the internet. Generally, as tax professionals we mainly see the impact on individuals from these schemes. However, there is an surge of small businesses being targeted now.

The Journal of Accountancy recently posted an article regarding this increase. The article highlights signs that you may have been a victim of identity theft and provides information on the ways both the IRS and state tax agencies are working to combat these fraud schemes. To read the full article click here.

LBA Haynes Strand is dedicated to alerting the public on any scam or fraudulous attempt to steal identities or gain access to important financial information. If you are interested learning more, contact us today.

Protect Yourself Against The New Tax Refund Scam

The IRS has reported that the number of potential victims impacted by a tax scam has increased from a few hundred to several thousand in just a few days. Putting a new twist on an old scam, criminals are taking taxpayer information, filing fraudulent returns, and depositing erroneous refunds into real taxpayers’ bank accounts. The criminals then contact the victim and use a variety of tactics to attempt to claim the refund.

The scam appears to have originated from tax preparers’ offices, where computers that have been infected with malware provided criminals with access to thousands of consumers’ return data.

“Speed is critical,” the agency said in its advisory. “If reported quickly, the IRS can take steps to block fraudulent returns in a preparer’s clients’ names.”

As tax preparers increase their security settings to protect client tax and financial files, it is important that consumers also protect themselves by knowing identity theft warning signs.

Top Indicators of Tax-Related Identity Theft
  • More than one tax return was filed using your Social Security Number 
  • IRS records indicate you received wages from an establishment at which you never worked
  • You owe additional tax, receive a refund offset notice, or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return
If you become a victim and notice an erroneous deposit in your account, take the following steps:
  • Contact your tax preparer immediately.
  • Contact the Automated Clearing House (ACH) department of the bank/financial institution where the direct deposit was received and have them return the refund to the IRS.
  • Call the IRS toll-free at 800-829-1040 (individual) or 800-829-4933 (business) to explain why the direct deposit is being returned.
  • Be aware that interest may accrue on the erroneous refund.
  • Communicate with your financial institution and be prepared to close your account, since the information has been accessed by criminals.

You can also access the steps for returning your erroneous refund directly on the IRS website.

Remember: The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text, or social media, or phone calls to discuss your account. If you receive a message, be suspicious!

LBA Haynes Strand is dedicated to alerting the public on any scam or fraudulous attempt to steal identities or gain access to important financial information. If you are interested in automatically receiving updates such as this, please subscribe to our blog.

Tips To Proactively Avoid Fraud and Embezzlement in a HOA

Fraud and embezzlement are words that can really cause an Association a lot of wasted time, money and energy.  So how can the Board of Directors get out in front of any potential fraud or embezzlement?  This is really simple and easy, but is almost always overlooked.  The Board needs to understand their role in fraud prevention and the top two components to fraud: motivation and opportunity.  In almost all cases, it will take both of these factors for fraud to occur.  Motivation is a factor completely outside of the Board’s control, but that cannot be said about the opportunity factor.

To reduce or eliminate the opportunity factor, establishing simple monitoring tasks by the Board are critical, extremely simple and highly effective.  First, review and control those key individuals that have banking authority.  When there are transitions on the board or with a management company then the individuals with banking authority need to be reviewed immediately and updated. Ensure this is reviewed and monitored by the Board Treasurer and then approved by the entire board. Next, establish an approved vendor list.  Payments made to vendors that don’t exist or consultants with no credentials are very common with Associations.  The Board should periodically review the disbursements ledger (check register) and look for payments to vendors that are not on the approved vendor list.

In addition, there are a number of control measures the board should do on a regular basis to reduce the risk of fraud or embezzlement.  These can include the following:

  • Review and approve the bank statements and bank reconciliations. Establish a due date to ensure the bank reconciliations are completed timely and reviewed timely.  Typically 15 days from the close of the previous month is a best practice.
  • Review actual results versus budgeted amounts and inquire of all variances.  Avoid only focusing on variances where the actual amounts exceed the approved budgeted amounts.  Variances significantly below approved budgeted amounts can be a myriad of issues.  Remember, the devil is the details. 
  • Discuss with your management company the safeguards they have over cash receipts.  The board should have a very good understanding of how much cash is received and what activities are leading to the generation of members paying in cash. 
  • Make sure your management company is utilizing a lockbox system for assessment collections.  Encourage all of your members to pay directly to the lockbox.  This will cut down on cash receipts. 
  • Review, review, review and review the monthly financial package.  This information is key and the boards timely review is critical to the identification of any potential issues that could be caused by fraud or embezzlement.  Make sure the financial package is completed timely as well.  Establish a due date with your management company.  This should be a date that is reasonable and agreed upon.

These steps, or suggestions, tailored to fit your association can help reduce or even possibly eliminate the opportunity for fraud and/embezzlement.  Fraud will happen at the most unexpected time, make sure your Board is taking the necessary precautions to protect the financial health and stability of your Association.  To learn more click the button below to speak with a Certified Public Accountant at LBA Haynes Strand.