Important Member Alert: Tax Season Phishing Scams

It’s tax filing season, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and state tax agencies have issued warnings related to a recent increase in sophisticated phishing emails. The emails appear to come from the IRS and demand a payment or threaten to seize tax refunds as a result of non-payment.

What is phishing? Phishing is a tactic cyber criminals use to collect an individual’s online banking, credit card, or other identifying account information. Once received, the cyber criminals can use your information and make transactions as you.

The tax refund season is the time of year in which the majority of tax related scams occur and there is increased vulnerability. This year, the IRS has reported a 60% increase in phishing emails attempting to steal taxpayer funds and tax-related information.

Phishing emails can be hard to detect. Often, intimidation tactics and urgent requests are commonly used by cyber criminals. The emails sent in a phishing attempt will appear to come from a trusted source, using a spoofed or compromised email address. Phishing emails usually contain stolen logos and often include hyperlinks to malicious websites, or contain attachments that are embedded with malware or viruses.

Targeted tax time victims have reported that their emails contained the following:

  • An email originating from IRS Online
  • Contained an attachment titled “Tax Account Transcript”
  • A subject line using the phrase “Tax Transcript”

In addition to email phishing scams, similar phone scams have also been reported. A common phishing phone attempt involved a caller claiming to be from the IRS and threatening victims with a lawsuit or arrest if a tax payment isn’t made immediately with a debit card.

To reduce your risk of falling victim to a phishing scam:

  • Remember that the IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email, text, or social media network to request personal or financial information.
  • The IRS also will never call a taxpayer and threaten a lawsuit or arrest.
  • Do not click on links or open email attachments from an unknown or suspicious source. Even if the email appears to be from someone you know, subtle variations will be present in the sender’s email address (for example: JohnSmith1@abc.com instead of JohnSmithI@abc.com).
  • Another red flag for email recipients includes grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Legitimate professional organizations and agencies typically do not contain such errors in their communications.
  • For more information on preventing and reporting tax scams to the IRS, click here.

Article Source: CUNA Risk Alert, December 2018

3 Ways to Prepare for Next Tax Season

 

Tax season is finally coming to a close. Believe it or not, it’s never too early to start thinking about next year. If filing your taxes was a headache and a hassle this year, here are a few tips to get you prepared for next time.

Get organized: Did you waste a bunch of time looking for receipts this year? Create a system, whether it’s a file cabinet or a shoebox, and keep track of those receipts and other financial documents you may need at the end of the year. Keep a tally of your charitable and retirement contributions and you’ll be ready to go as soon as you get that W-2 in the mail.

Keep track of changes: What’s happened to you this year, and what will be happening in the next few months? Are you getting married? Having a baby? Buying a house? Opening up a Roth IRA? All of these things will affect your filing status, so make sure you’re up to speed on how any of things will affect your filing process.

Be patient: Do you have a side business or do freelance work? If so, any number of hiccups can occur during tax preparation. Be prepared – but know it’s not a huge deal if you have to file an extension. If you find yourself in this boat, head on over to IRS.gov and get an extension form.

With a little preparation, you can make the tax season process a lot easier.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

 

Important Member Alert: Tax Scams

We are in the midst of tax season, and you guessed it – the fraudsters are at it again! Please be on the lookout for the following tax scams, where the scammers have been posing as the IRS via phone or email. The most important thing to remember here is that the IRS will never contact you via phone or email.

Click here to watch a short video from NBC Nightly News, which explains some of the recent tax scams.

In the first tax scam scenario, fraudsters will have already obtained an individual’s non-public personal information (name, SSN, date of birth) and bank account information. They may have obtained this information in many different ways (dumpster diving, computer hacking, stolen wallet, pretext calling). They will then file a false tax return using the individual’s name and information. Once they receive confirmation that the tax return has been deposited into the individual’s bank account, they will contact the individual via telephone posing as an employee of the IRS. They will state the funds were deposited to their account in error and order them to pay the funds back or suffer penalties.

In the second tax scam scenario, a fraudster will contact an individual via phone or email, again posing as a representative from the IRS. They will state that they owe back taxes and demand payment from the individual. They will attempt to obtain the individual’s checking account/bank routing number or credit card information to directly debit their account, or they may instruct them to mail a check.

Once again, the IRS will never contact anyone via phone or email – they will only use regular US postal mail. If you receive a phone call or email from the “IRS” – it is not the IRS.

Have you received a tax refund you didn’t file for yet?

  • Contact your financial institution immediately.
  • Have your financial institution return anything direct deposited into your account to the IRS, and then call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040
  • For an actual check received in the mail, write VOID across the front of the check and mail it to the IRS location closest to you by entering your zip code at IRS.gov
  • If you cashed the check, you will need to reimburse the IRS with a personal check.
  • For further instructions, visit the tax fraud section of the IRS’ website here.

If you feel that any of your First Financial accounts may have been compromised as a result of a tax scam, please contact Member Services at 732-312-1500 Monday through Friday 8am-6pm EST, or Saturday 8:30am-1pm.

Article Sources: NBC Nightly News and IRS.gov

3 Ways to be Financially Responsible with Your Tax Return

Here are some smart ways to spend your tax refund this year:

Pay down your debt. This may be the smartest choice when deciding what to do with your refund. Decreasing your debt helps alleviate the interest you’re paying, which will be a huge weight off your wallet and credit score. Debt can feel like a mountain, so use this opportunity to start digging yourself out from under it.

Put it into retirement. If you’re not steadily adding funds to your retirement account (401k, Roth IRA), you’re doing yourself a disservice. Even if you’re young and it doesn’t seem that important right now, you’ll be 65 before you know it.

Need help with retirement planning? To set up a complimentary consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals, contact us at 732.312.1500, or stop in to see us!*

Build up an emergency fund. If you’re doing a good job of saving for retirement, congratulations. But you may get yourself into trouble if that’s all you’re saving. Take this opportunity to use your tax return to create an emergency fund in case things go south (you lose your job, car dies, etc).

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

4 Smart Ways to Spend Your Tax Return

Tax form with paper money, silver pen, calculator on white background

Here are some smart ways to spend your money once you get that tax return this year.

Pay down credit card debt. This may be the smartest choice when deciding what to do with your refund. Decreasing your debt helps alleviate the interest you’re paying, which will be a huge weight off your wallet and credit score. Debt can feel like a mountain, so take the opportunity to dig yourself out from under it.

Put it into retirement. Your retirement account (401k, Roth IRA) can sometimes be neglected if you’re not steadily adding funds, so use your refund as a chance to jump start your contributions for 2017. It may not seem super important now, but you’ll be retirement age before you know it.

Questions about retirement savings or investments? To set up a complimentary consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals, contact us at 732.312.1500, or stop in to see us!*

Build that emergency fund. Even if you’re doing a good job of saving for retirement, that may be all you’re saving. If this is you, use your tax return to create an emergency fund in case things go south. It’s never a bad idea to be prepared!

Invest in yourself. This could have a lot of different meanings. Exercise is good for your body and taking a trip can be a good way to unwind and refresh your mind. If these sound like good ideas, join a gym or book a flight. Have a favorite charity? Give some of that money away. Helping others can be good for the soul too.

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

3 Ways to Ensure Cyber Safety During Tax Time

Income Tax File Meaning Paying Taxes 3d Rendering

The IRS is now officially open for business as tax season gets underway. Here are three ways you can protect yourself over the next few months as you manage important and sensitive, financial documents.

Stay on secured networks: As with other financial transactions, make sure to only e-file your taxes (or view private documents) on a protected Wi-Fi network. You may be tempted to work from a coffee shop or the library, but remember using a public server can make you an easy target for cyber thieves.

Beware of IRS emails: The Internal Revenue Service will never directly reach out to you; if you receive a fraudulent message report it immediately to phishing@irs.gov. Use caution when dealing with these and be sure not to click on web links or open suspicious email attachments.

Set strong passwords: Most of us may think that choosing a password such as “password” or “123456” is an obvious mistake but according to TIME, these are in fact the most popular password picks. Review their list of these commonly used passwords and make necessary adjustments to yours to ensure your information stays safe online.

First Financial members get discounts on TurboTax products – get started today!

Article Source: Wendy Bignon for CUInsight.com