3 Tax Scams You Need to Watch Out For

Becoming a victim of tax scam

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), there was a 400% increase in phishing and malware incidents during the 2016 tax season. And tax scams extend far beyond email and malware to include phone scams, identity theft and more.  While the April 15 filing deadline still feels far away, as Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Scammers use multiple ploys and tactics to lure unsuspecting victims in. The IRS publishes an annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams. Sadly, while some of those scams lure people into getting ripped off, others lure people into unwittingly committing tax fraud by falling victim to fake charities, shady tax preparers and false claims on their tax returns.

The most important things you can do to keep yourself scam-free and protected this—and any—tax year are to:

  • Be wary—if it seems too good to be true, it probably is
  • Educate yourself on the most common risks out there
  • File your taxes as early as possible

When you file your taxes as early as possible, you can just politely decline scammer and you can protect yourself from taxpayer identity theft. Tax-related identity theft is primarily aimed at someone posing as you stealing your tax refund. Scammers are creative, sophisticated, persistent and move fast once they have your information in hand. Armed with your Social Security number, date of birth and other pieces of your personally-identifiable information, they can rob you. If you’ve been the victim of a data breach—learn the warning signs—your information is likely available on the dark web. With your information, all a scam artist has to do is log in to a motel’s Wi-Fi network, fill out a fraudulent tax return online and walk away with a refund that could be and should have been yours.

What Is a Tax Scam?

A tax scam is a ploy intended to steal your information and/or your money. It can take several forms. The IRS’s “Dirty Dozen” for 2018 includes these scams:

  • Phishing scams, using fake emails or websites to steal personal information.
  • Phone scams where callers pretend to be IRS agents to steal your information or money.
  • Identity theft scams where identity thieves try and steal your personally identifiable information.
  • Return preparer fraud where a dishonest tax preparer submits a fraudulent return for you or steals your identity.
  • Fake charities where unqualified groups get you to donate money that isn’t actually deductible on your tax return.
  • Inflated refund claim scams where a dishonest tax preparer promises a high refund.
  • Excessive claims for business credits where you or a dishonest tax preparer promises a high refund for claiming credits you aren’t owed, such as the full tax credit.
  • Falsely padding deductions Taxpayers where you or a dishonest tax prepare reports more for expenses or deductions than really occurred.
  • Falsifying income to claim credits where a dishonest tax preparer cons you into claiming income you didn’t earn in order to qualify for tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • Frivolous tax arguments where a scam artist gets you to make fake claims to avoid paying taxes.
  • Abusive tax shelters where a scammer sells you on a shelter as a way to avoid paying taxes.
  • Offshore tax avoidance where a scammer convinces you to put your money offshore to hide it as a source of taxable income that you have to pay taxes on.

It’s important to know that if you fall victim, you may not just be the victim. You may also be a criminal and held accountable legally and financially for filing an incorrect return.

A new scam recently hit the wires too. For this one, scammers email employees asking for copies of their W-2s. People who fall victim end up having their names, addresses, Social Security numbers and income sold online. The emails look very valid but aren’t If you see this or other emails that stink like “phish,” email the IRS at phishing@irs.gov

1. Phishing

Phishing uses a fake email or website to get you to share your personally-identifiable information. They often look valid. Know that the IRS will never contact you by email regarding your tax return or bill.

Phishing emails take many forms. They typically target getting enough of your personally identifiable information to commit fraud in your name, making you a victim of identity theft if you take the bait.

Phishing emails may also contain a link that places malware on your computer. These programs can do a variety of things—none of them good—ranging from recruiting your machine into a botnet distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack to placing a keystroke recorder on your computer to access bank, credit union, credit card and brokerage accounts to gathering all the personally identifiable information on your hard drive.

Here’s what you need to know: The IRS will never send you an email to initiate any business with you. Did you hear that? NEVER. If you receive an email from the IRS, delete it. End of story. Oh, and it will never initiate contact by way of phone call either.

That said, there are other sources of email that may have the look and feel of a legitimate communication that are tied to other kinds of tax scams and fraudulent refunds. And not all scams are emailed though. A lot of scammers will call. The IRS offers 5 way to identify tax scam phone calls.

2. Criminal Tax Preparation Scams

Not all tax professionals are the same and you must vet anyone you’re thinking about using well before handing over a shred of your personally identifying information. Get at least three references and check online if there are any reviews before calling them. Also, consider using the Better Business Bureau to see if the preparer has any complaints against them.

Here’s why: At tax-prep time, offices that are actually fronts for criminal identity theft pop up around the country in strip malls and other properties and then promptly disappear a few days later. Make sure the one you choose is legit!

3. Shady Tax Preparation

Phishing emails aren’t always aimed at stealing your personally identifiable information or planting malware on your computer. They may be simply aimed at getting your attention and business through enticing—and fraudulent—offers of a really big tax refund. While these tax preparers may get you a big refund, it could well be based on false information.

Be on the lookout for questions about business expenses that you didn’t make, especially watching out for signals from your tax preparer that you’re giving him or her a figure that is “too low.”

If you are using a preparer and something doesn’t seem right, ask questions—either directly from the preparer or by calling the IRS. The IRS operates the Tax Payer Advocate Service that can help answer your requests. The service’s phone may be unavailable during a government shutdown, but the website is always available.

Other soft-cons of shady tax preparation include inflated deductions, claiming tax credits that you’re not entitled to and declaring charitable donations you didn’t make. Bottom line: If you cheat—intentionally or unintentionally—chances are you’ll get caught. So make sure you play by the rules and follow the instructions or work with a preparer who does. Yes, the instructions are complicated. That’s why it’s not a bad idea to get honest help if you need it.

As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” Tax season is stressful without the threat of tax-related identity theft and other scams. It’s important to be vigilant, because, to quote Yogi all over again, “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”

This article was originally published February 28, 2017, and has been updated by a different author.

The post 3 Tax Scams You Need to Watch Out For appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

Guide to Managing Finances for Deploying Service Members

Life in the military offers some distinct experiences compared to civilian life, and that includes your budget and finances. The pre-deployment process can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re organizing your money and bills. 

It’s important you provide your family with everything they need to keep you and any dependents comfortable and stable. This means gathering paperwork, making phone calls to service providers, creating new budgets, and organizing your estate. The more you prepare ahead of time, the less you have to worry about the state of your investments and finances when you return home. 

To help make the process easier, we’ve gathered everything you need to know for deployment finances. Read on or jump to a specific category below:

Pre-Deployment Needs

  • Review Your Estate
  • Reassign Financial Responsibilities
  • Update Your Services
  • Build a Budget
  • Prepare a Deployment Binder

Deployment Needs

  • Protect Yourself From Fraud
  • Adjust Your Savings
  • Financial Assistance

Post-Deployment Needs

  • Update Your Budget
  • Pay Off Debt
  • Review Legal Documents

Before Your Deployment

There’s a lot of paperwork and emotions involved in preparing for deployment. Make sure you take plenty of time for yourself and your loved ones, then schedule time to organize your finances for some peace of mind. 
investments, and dependents. It’s an important conversation to have with your partner and establishes:

  • Power of attorney
  • Living will
  • Last will and testament
  • Long-term care
  • Life insurance
  • Survivor benefits
  • Funeral arrangements

Anyone with property, wealth, or dependents should have some estate planning basics secured. These documents will protect your wishes and your family in the event you suffer serious injury. There are several military resources to help you prepare your estate:

  • Defense Finance And Accounting Services’ Survivor Benefit Plan and Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan
  • Department Of Defense’s Military Funeral Honors Pre-arrangement 
  • Service Member’s Group Life Insurance
  • Veterans Affairs Survivor’s Benefits
  • The Importance Of Estate Planning In The Military
  • Survivor Benefits Calculator

Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) allows you to cancel a housing or auto lease, cancel your phone service, and avoid foreclosure on a home you own without penalties. Additionally, you can reduce your debt interest rates while you’re deployed, giving you a leg up on debt repayment or savings goals. Learn more about the SCRA benefits below:

  • Terminating Your Lease For Deployment
  • SCRA Interest Rate Limits
  • SCRA Benefits And Legal Guidance

 

Build a Deployment Budget

Your pay may change during and after deployment, which means it’s time to update your budget. Use a deployment calculator to estimate how your pay will change to get a foundation for your budget. 

Typically, we recommend you put 50 percent of your pay towards needs, like rent and groceries. If you don’t have anyone relying on your income, then you should consider splitting this chunk of change between your savings accounts and debt. 

Make sure you continue to deposit at least 20 percent of your pay into savings, too. Send some of this towards an emergency fund, while the rest can go towards your larger savings goals, like buying a house and retirement. 

Use these resources to help calculate your goals and budgets, as well as planning for your taxes:

  • My Army Benefits Deployment Calculator
  • My Army Benefits Retirement Calculator
  • Mint Budget Calculator
  • IRS Deployed Veteran Tax Extension
  • IRS Military Tax Resources
  • Combat Zone Tax Exclusions

 

Prepare a Deployment Binder

Mockup of someone completing the deployment checklist.

Illustrated button to download our printable depployment binder checklist.

It’s best to organize and arrange all of your documents, information, and needs into a deployment binder for your family. This will hold copies of your estate planning documents, budget information, and additional contacts and documents. 

Make copies of your personal documents, like birth certificates, contracts, bank information, and more. You also want to list important contacts like family doctors, your pet’s veterinarian, household contacts, and your power of attorney. 

Once you have your book ready, give it to your most trusted friend or family member. Again, this point of contact will have a lot of information about you that needs to stay secure. Finish it off with any instructions or to-dos for while you’re gone, and your finances should be secure for your leave. 

While You’re Deployed

Though most of your needs are taken care of before you deploy, there are a few things to settle while you’re away from home. 
Romance and identity scams are especially popular and can cost you thousands. 

  • Social Media Scams To Watch For
  • Romance Scam Red Flags
  • Military Scam Warning Signs

 

Adjust Your Savings 

Since you won’t be responsible for as many bills, and you may have reduced debt interest rates, deployment is the perfect time to build your savings.

While you’re deployed, you may be eligible for the Department of Defense’s Savings Deposit Program (SDP), which offers up to 10 percent interest. This is available to service members deployed to designated combat zones and those receiving hostile fire pay.

Military and federal government employees are also eligible for the Thrift Savings Plan. This is a supplementary retirement savings to your Civil Service Retirement System plan.

  • Savings Deposit Program
  • Thrift Savings Plan Calculator
  • Civil Service Retirement System
  • Military Saves Resources

 

Additional Resources for Financial Assistance

Deployment can be a financially and emotionally difficult time for families of service members. Make sure you and your family have easy access to financial aid in case they find themselves in need. 

Each individual branch of the military offers its own family and financial resources. You can find additional care through local support systems and national organizations, like Military OneSource and the American Legion. 

  • Family Readiness System
  • Navy-marine Corps Relief Society
  • Air Force Aid Society
  • Army Emergency Relief
  • Coast Guard Mutual Assistance
  • Military Onesource’s Financial Live Chat
  • Find Your Military And Family Support Center
  • Emergency Loans Through Military Heroes Fund Foundation Programs
  • The American Legion Family Support Network

After You Return Home

Coming home after deployment may be a rush of emotions. Relief, exhaustion, excitement, and lots of celebration are sure to come with it. There’s a lot to consider with reintegration after deployment, and that includes taking another look at your finances. 

 

Update Your Budget

Just like before deployment, you should update your budget to account for your new spending needs and pay. It’s time to reinstate your car insurance, find housing, and plan your monthly grocery budget. 

After a boost in savings while deployed, you may want to treat yourself to something nice — which is totally okay! The key is to decide what you want for yourself or your family, figure if it’s reasonable while maintaining other savings goals, like your rainy day fund, and limit other frivolous purchases. Now is not the time to go on a spending spree — it’s best to invest this money into education savings, retirement, and other long-term plans.

In addition to your savings goals, make sure you’re prepared to take care of yours and your family’s health. Prioritize your mental health after deployment and speak with a counselor, join support groups, and prepare for reintegration. Your family and children may also have a hard time adjusting, so consider their needs and seek out resources as well. 
FTC | NFCC 

The post Guide to Managing Finances for Deploying Service Members appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

What to Do When Your Credit Card Goes Missing

You’re likely to lose track of a credit card at some point—many people do. You’re standing at the checkout counter, you open your wallet and it’s not there. What you do depends on how prepared you are and whether you think the card was lost or stolen.

How to Prepare for a Lost Credit Card

Losing a credit card doesn’t have to be something that turns into a nightmare. You can manage the situation more effectively if you’ve taken these three steps to prepare in advance.

1. Choose Your Financial Institutions Wisely

Do you often think your bank could improve its customer service? Have you had past problems getting unauthorized charges removed from a credit card statement? If your bank or credit card company has failed you in the past, it’s more likely it will do so in the future when you need help the most.

Of course, it’s easier to just coast along with whichever company you have been using to meet financial goals. But it’s worth the time to think of worst-case scenarios and make a change to the financial institutions you use before you need emergency services.

Take a few minutes to think how you would rate the services offered by your banks and credit companies and compare policies for lost or stolen cards. Little things can make a big difference, such as a company guarantee to get you a replacement card within a specific time frame.

2. Keep Your Contact Information Up to Date

Imagine you need a replacement credit or debit card, but the agent tells you he can’t send it to your current address because the company has an old address on file. Or imagine trying to activate a card via text or email while you’re traveling, but you can’t get it to work because the company has old numbers and addresses on file.

Unsurprisingly, financial institutions are hesitant to make any changes to an account while it’s flagged for possible fraudulent activity. If you want to get a replacement card in hand as quickly as possible when you need it, make any updates to your contact information now.

3. Keep Your Credit Card Contact Information and Account Number Handy

This one is easy. Record the toll-free support number for each card’s financial institution in your phone’s contact book. Though you could probably track down the number fairly quickly with internet access, time is often of the essence when reporting a lost or stolen card, so make it easy for yourself. Having your account number ready can also save valuable time verifying your identity with the customer service rep.

What to Do When a Credit Card Goes Missing

In general, you should treat a lost credit or debit card as if it was stolen. There’s no major downside to reporting it stolen, other than having to replace the card.

Obtaining the highest level of protection against fraudulent use of your card is based on how quickly you report the incident. Federal law says you have zero liability for any charges made on your card after you report it’s gone, but you may be liable for charges made before you do so.

If You Think Your Card Is Lost

1. Retrace your steps.

You may be lucky. Your card or wallet might be waiting for you right where you left it.

2. Cancel your card, and request a replacement.

Even if you’re lucky enough to find your lost card or it’s returned to you by a good Samaritan, your financial information may be compromised. Someone may have copied all the information needed to process a transaction. It may be best to err on the safe side and get a new card.

If You Think Your Card Was Stolen

1. Report it immediately

Call the financial institution that issued the card using the 24-hour support phone number for fraud prevention and report the card as stolen. If your entire wallet was stolen with multiple cards and pieces of identification in it, call every financial institution as soon as possible.

2. Keep records

Make a record of the time and date of your call and who you spoke to. Since your liability for unauthorized transactions is tied to speedy reporting, plan to prove you were diligent just in case.

3. File a police report

Another way to demonstrate your due diligence and avoid any liability for unauthorized charges is to show you made an official report regarding the incident.

4. Notify the credit reporting agencies

It’s a good idea to put a security alert on your credit reports. Although this may be overkill for the loss of a single card, it can offer an extra layer of protection if the theft evolves into full-fledged identity theft. Victims of identity theft can sometimes have a hard time proving that negative credit reporting was the result of an impersonation. An immediate alert regarding the initial incident can go a long way when you want negative information removed.

5. Watch your account activity

Take advantage of online access to your account to monitor activity. Check your monthly statements immediately upon receipt and not months later. If you see anything strange or unauthorized, contact your financial institution. Don’t assume that because you canceled the card everything is under control. Thieves develop new ways to take advantage of access to even the smallest bit of your financial information all the time.

6. Update your auto payments

Try to remember to do this before the auto payments bounce back for nonpayment. Don’t let the theft of the card derail your good credit.

FAQs

What do I do if I lost my credit card?

To ensure maximum protection against having to pay for unauthorized charges, call the credit card company’s 24-hour support line and report the missing card right away at any time of the day or night. Try retracing your steps if you think you can find the lost card, but even if it’s returned to you by a third party, you may want to request a replacement card to be safe.

Can I track my credit card if I lost it?

New ways to track personal belongings are being developed all the time. Check with your financial institution to see if it has a way to locate a missing card by its internal chip. Some companies offer other features, such as the ability to turn the card on and off with an app if it’s temporarily misplaced.

How long does it take to get a replacement credit card?

Typically, it takes seven to 10 days to receive a replacement card. However, each company has its own policies regarding turnaround time, which can range from overnight to weeks.

Why is my credit card not working?

A credit card can stop working for any number of reasons, including damage to the card or a negative credit balance. Occasionally, a credit card company places a hold on a card if the security agents see a suspicious transaction or a transaction with details that lie outside of your normal spending habits. In these cases, you can usually reactivate your card by calling the credit company and verifying your identity and recent transactions.

The post What to Do When Your Credit Card Goes Missing appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com