4 Ways to Identify a Tax Scam

Tax filing season is of course a busy time of year. It’s also a busy time of year for scammers. According to a recent Federal Trade Commission report, of the $1.48 billion total reported fraud, consumers lost nearly $488 million to imposter scams in 2018. Fraud schemes range from debt collector calls or emails claiming you haven’t paid your taxes, to someone posing as an official from the IRS or local law enforcement agency threatening arrest, suspension of your driver’s license or some other penalty if you don’t immediately wire funds to pay your taxes. The scams have become increasingly sophisticated and hard to detect.

Here is what you need to know about the IRS and tax scams:

The first contact from the IRS is through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text message or social media channels. Even if they call you to set up appointments or discuss an audit, you would first receive notification by mail. Only after mailing an official notification of an audit can an auditor/tax examiner follow up by phone. Forward any suspicious emails to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov. Alleged IRS or tax debt collection calls should be reported to (800) 366-4484. 

Payments to the IRS are only payable to the United State Treasury. They do not accept payment in the form of prepaid debit cards, gift cards, or wire transfers.

IRS agents will NEVER demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or dispute the amount they say you owe. They must advise you of your rights as a taxpayer. They CANNOT threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law enforcement agencies to have you arrested for not paying your taxes. The IRS also has zero authority to revoke your driver’s license, business license, or immigration status.

If an IRS representative calls or comes to a home or business unannounced to collect a tax debt or as part of an investigation, they will always provide two forms of official credentials: a pocket commission and an HSPD-12 card. You have a right to see the credentials and can call the IRS to verify the identity/information on the representative’s HSPD-12 card.

The moral of the story: be aware, do your research, and don’t become a victim of a tax scam this tax filing season!

Article Source: Myriam DiGiovanni for Financialfeed.com

 

Let the Taxpayer Beware: Learn to Spot 6 Common Tax Scams

Now that your W2s and miscellaneous tax documents have arrived, tax season is officially in full swing. While it’s easy to get lost in optimistic daydreams about your tax refund and all you’re planning to do with it, it’s important to remember that scam artists are probably dreaming about what they could do with your refund as well.

After reaching an all-time high of more than 700,000 cases in 2015, tax refund fraud has been declining thanks to significant enforcement efforts by federal, state, and private agencies. While these statistics are encouraging, they also highlight the ongoing need for caution and vigilance. So, before you file your 2018 taxes or pay someone to file for you, we want to remind you about six of the most common tax-related scams happening today.

Phishing Emails 

This one is relatively easy to spot. Why’s that, you ask? Because the IRS doesn’t initiate communication with taxpayers via email. So, if you see an email from the IRS pop up in your inbox—even one that looks remarkably official, don’t open it. For good measure, go ahead and mark it as spam before deleting it. Emails of this type have only one goal: to trick you into clicking a fraudulent hyperlink or responding with sensitive personal information.

Phishing 2.0

In 2018, the IRS reported a new twist on traditional phishing scams. In the new approach, fraudsters hacked the systems of legitimate tax professionals, stole tax returns containing personal details, and then deposited funds directly into taxpayer bank accounts. After those deposits hit the bank, the criminals posed as the IRS or collection agencies and contacted account holders demanding a resolution to the error. The goal of these scams is not to simply regain the money deposited “in error,” but to get the victim to share account details that can be used to access the account at another time. If you find yourself with an unexpected deposit in your bank account, the IRS offers helpful instructions here.

Phone scams 

Though they come via phone call, these scams are essentially the same as phishing emails. The difference lies in the fact that con artists can spoof IRS phone numbers in an attempt to convince unsuspecting people to answer the call. Once the phone call is underway, the person on the other end claims to be an IRS agent and tries to get the individual to confirm private account details in an attempt to “resolve the situation.” If they don’t get the results they’re hoping for, the fraudsters may even follow-up with phone calls where they impersonate law enforcement officials and threaten legal action. To avoid accidentally divulging personal details, it’s best to ignore these calls completely. Just as the IRS doesn’t initially contact taxpayers by email, they also don’t initiate official communication by phone either.

Refund Theft 

This type of scam takes place at the intersection of identity theft and financial fraud. Using a variety of tactics, criminals obtain taxpayer social security numbers and file fraudulent tax returns in their name—often claiming substantial refunds. Since this happens without the knowledge of the victim, it only comes to light when their legitimate tax return is rejected due to a previous return already filed under the same social security number. While the IRS is committed to resolving these issues when they happen, the process can be long and tedious. To safeguard yourself against tax refund theft, IRS officials recommend obtaining an Identity Protection PIN, also known as an IP PIN. Instructions for securing a PIN can be found on the official IRS website.

Shady Tax Prep Services

Since an estimated 79 million Americans use paid tax preparation services, there are considerable opportunities for dishonest preparers to abuse the system. One of the most common scams involves a preparer illegally inflating an individual’s refund and collecting a percentage of the taxpayer’s refund instead of a flat fee. Many times, the problem isn’t identified until after the refund has been issued and the preparer’s fee has been collected. In these scams, the preparer is long gone by the time that the problem is identified, and the taxpayer is responsible for handling the audit on their own. While the practice of a tax preparer charging a percentage of refund isn’t technically illegal, you’re better off avoiding this type of arrangement and opting for a flat-fee service instead.

Public Wi-Fi Scammers

It seems like this one should go without saying, but we could all use a reminder from time to time. The public Wi-Fi at coffee shops, libraries, and bookstores can be great for hopping online to browse social media, but it’s terrible for filing your taxes. Not only can these unsecured networks be accessed by almost anyone, but dishonest scammers can also set up hot spots that look like the establishment’s Wi-Fi and intercept logins, passwords, and personal information. So, if you’re filing taxes electronically this year (and considering the fact that approximately 90% of taxpayers filed electronically in 2018, you probably are), do yourself a favor: file at home from your personal computer and your secure Internet connection.

As with most financial scams, these can be simple to sidestep as long as you know the signs to look for. If you observe questionable practices, want to read up more on tax season scams, or have additional tax-related concerns, you can find more information and helpful instructions here on the official IRS website.

If you are receiving a federal or state tax refund this year and want to make the most of your money, contact us here at First Financial Federal Credit Union. Our financial specialists can help you assess your financial situation and show you all the beneficial programs and products available to you as a credit union member. Call, email, or stop by a branch today!

Don’t Fall for a Work From Home Scam

The promises of making it big by working from home are definitely out there, and most of the time it’s a scam. Though you may already be on high alert, online job scammers have gotten more sophisticated – and some may still slip past your radar.

Besides heeding the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is – job seekers should consider the following questions when reviewing potential work from home opportunities:

  • Does the job listing include the hiring company’s name and/or does the recruiter or job posting match the company’s information?
  • Are there any upfront costs required to get the job? (Supplies, a minimum investment or training fees).
  • Are there any typos on the site or in any correspondence?
  • Are you being asked to provide personal information like a social security number, credit card number, bank information, or driver’s license?
  • Did they offer you a job on the spot without conducting an interview?

If the answer is yes to any of the above, experts say that’s a red flag, and the “dream opportunity” might become a nightmare.

Here are the 5 most common work from home scams:

Career advancement grant: This scam claims to come from the government, promising you a grant to pursue education or a certification. Scammers ask for your bank account information with the promise that they will deposit the bogus grant money directly into your account.

Data entry scams: There are legitimate data entry jobs that allow you to work from home, but these scammers ask for money up front and/or promise wages that are much higher than normal.

Pyramid schemes: If the only way to make money is by others losing money or paying you as they recruit others, it’s probably a scam. Plus, pyramid schemes are also illegal – so you could be charged with a crime too.

Online reshipping: Don’t ever repack items and forward them to customers outside of the United States. What you’re doing is transporting stolen goods, and not only will you never get paid, you could also be charged with a crime.

Rebate processor: This scam promises you a salary based on the number of clicks your ad receives. It charges a training fee up front for which you will never be reimbursed, and you’ll never receive that salary, either.

Scammers can be very creative in convincing you that a position or company is legitimate, so do your research. Check with sites like BetterBusinessBureau.com, FTC.com, and Scam.com to learn of recent employment scams.

Article Source: Myriam DiGiovanni for FinancialFeed.com

5 Simple Steps to Stop Overspending

You probably have the best intentions when it comes to saving money. With all the temptations out there, it can be hard to keep your finances in line. Splurging here and there every once in awhile is okay – but the habit of overspending can become a much bigger problem if you don’t keep things in check. Check out these five steps to stop overspending, before it gets out of hand.

Understand Your Triggers

Overspending is often caused by impulse shopping. When you’re out shopping, do the small items in the checkout aisle get you? Do you always pick something up while waiting at the checkout line, even though you don’t actually need anything? Ask yourself why. It’s important to understand what your triggers are. Do you spend because it gives you a thrill or because you’re bored and have nothing else to do while waiting in line? Understanding exactly why you overspend will help you get to the root of the problem and find lasting and realistic solutions.

Track Your Budget

The most important thing you can do to stop overspending is to actually have a budget and track your expenses. It’s not enough to just have a rough idea of how much you’re spending. You need to know exactly where your money is going and what you’re spending on everything. Start logging expenses in the budget whenever you buy something or pay a bill. At the end of the month, sit down and analyze your spending habits. You might be surprised at what you find out, and even more surprised when you realize you can cut a lot out without feeling much of a sacrifice.

Learn to Say No

Overspending has a lot to do with social pressures. Sometimes it’s just really hard to say no. You might be trying to keep up with the Joneses, or maybe your friends are just constantly asking you to go out. Think about your priorities before you agree to anything. Is the decision going to hurt your finances and should you really be making that commitment? Learning to say no is a big part of being financially responsible. The sooner you learn what you can and can’t afford, the closer you will be to financial independence.

Live Within Your Means

Here’s a simple thing you can do to improve your finances: don’t spend more than you have. Getting into the habit of spending every paycheck is dangerous even if you never get into debt, because emergencies do happen and you will need savings to fall back on. It’s even worse if you overspend and fall into debt to make purchases. Once you owe money, you not only have to pay for what you buy, but you also need to pay interest on what you owe – effectively making your paycheck smaller for the foreseeable future. Learn to live within your means. It’s certainly not easy at the beginning, but scaling back little by little will set you up for long term success.

Allow Small Rewards

Personal finance is serious business, and most of the time it may not seem very fun. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself in the process though. Don’t forget to budget for a “YOU” fund. Allow yourself small rewards from your paycheck. Just make sure the “YOU” fund doesn’t cause you to go over your budget.

Article Source: Connie Mei for moneyning.com

5 Reasons You’re in Debt

Are you in debt and not sure how you got there? Some of these reasons may be the culprit.

1. You justify your purchases

Don’t try to rationalize unnecessary purchases. On some level, we are all guilty of this. Between “I deserve this” and “I need this,” we’re constantly making excuses for spending money. This doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself, but do it affordably and make sure you budget for it.

2. You refuse to address your debt

The first stage of grief is denial, and dealing with debt can look very similar. Do not ignore your debt. As difficult as it is, you need to face your debt head on. Understand what you owe and create a plan of attack.

3. You are an impulse spender

With next day shipping and one-click shopping, this has never been a more prevalent issue for consumers. These purchases are beyond trying to justify, and that impulse is what is hurting your wallet. Try holding off on some purchases unless you’ve given them some thought, or saved up first.

4. You assume you are going to make more later

A great example of this is taking on student loans. Most students don’t have a choice if they want to go to college, and are now graduating with debt upward of $40,000 in hopes that they can land a job that will pay them enough to pay it back. In other cases, people are making purchases because they think they will be up for a promotion or have a raise around the corner. Even if all of these things do come to fruition, you will still be paying more in interest than if you’d waited.

5. You often dip into savings for expenses

J.P. Morgan once said, “if you have to ask how much it is, you can’t afford it.” When you look at a price tag and immediately start thinking about how to move money around, take a step back. Once that money goes into your savings, it should disappear from your thoughts. The only time you should ever spend money from savings is when there’s an emergency and you need to use your emergency fund.

Article Source: Tyler Atwell for CUinsight.com

Things to Do on a Budget in Monmouth & Ocean Counties this March 2019

Let’s spring into March with a little bit of luck and have some fun with family and friends! Check out the list below of local (free or inexpensive) activities to do with your loved ones all month long.

March 2: Celebrate Dr. Seuss’ Birthday at Jenkinson’s Aquarium (Pt. Pleasant) from 1-4pm. Bring your favorite Dr. Seuss book and share it during story times with the Cat in the Hat. Enjoy crafts too! Cost is free with aquarium admission. Learn more by calling 732.899.1659 or click here.

March 3:

Open ceramics at Thompson Park in Lincroft from 12:30-4:30pm. Choose from a large selection of bisque fired pottery pieces to glaze and make your own. Children age 12 and under are welcome, but must be accompanied by an adult. The cost is $6 per hour plus price of bisque ware – cash or check only. Learn more by calling 732.842.4000 ext. 4343 or click here.

Belmar St. Patrick’s Day Parade from 12-4pm on Main Street. Don’t miss one of the biggest celebrations of St. Patty’s Day in our area! See the parade route and get more information here, call 732.280.2648 or watch the parade streaming live the day of!

March 9:

Ocean County’s Annual St. Patty’s Day Parade kicks off at 12pm down the Boulevard in Seaside Heights. Enjoy a great afternoon celebrating with thousands! For more details, visit https://www.ocstpatricksdayparade.com/

March 10:

Belmar Restaurant Tour from 11:30am-3:30pm. Don’t miss over 30 of Belmar’s best places to eat on this year’s annual restaurant tour. Tickets are $35 per person and can be purchased online in advance.

Annual Asbury Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade from 1-3pm. The parade begins at 5th and Ocean Avenues, with lots of places to continue to celebrate and have fun afterward. See the parade route and get more information at https://asburyparkstpatricksparade.com/

March 12 & 13: Flavor of Freehold Restaurant Tour from 5:30-8:30pm in Downtown Freehold. A unique tour of Downtown Freehold’s restaurants, bars, and shops held over two days. Participants walk from place to place with their “Passport” used as a guide of where to go. Everyone will receive signature samples from some of Freehold’s most loved establishments. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased online.

March 15: Pizza and Penguins at Jenkinson’s Aquarium (Pt. Pleasant) from 6-7:30pm. Your favorite flightless bird will make a special dinnertime appearance while you enjoy pizza and drinks! Learn all about them, ask their keepers questions, and meet Perky the Penguin too. Pre-registration is required. All ages are welcome. Cost  is $20 Adults $15 Children. Call 732.899.1659 or click here.

March 17: St. Patrick’s Day at iPlay America in Freehold from 11am-9pm. Come to iPlay America and feel the luck of the Irish! Purchase an iRide, iRide Plus, or Power Play Pass and you are eligible choose a coin from the Pot of Gold. You can also win a free Shamrock Shake or Free Ride Band. Game Time Bar and Grill will also be having great St. Patrick’s Day specials featuring corned beef and cabbage and more. Get additional details at https://www.iplayamerica.com/ or call 732.577.8200.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade kicks off in Downtown Freehold on McLean Street at 1pm and runs through 2:30pm. The parade route will be packed with tons of fun and Irish tradition, as participants march from McLean Street to the Elk’s Lodge. Parking is available in Borough and Public lots. Learn more here.

March 23 & 24: Sugar Shack Tour, Tasting and Tractor ride at Happy Day Farm (Manalapan) from 12-5pm. Freezing nights and thawing days mark the beginning of maple sugaring season, and the work of tapping trees and boiling sap is underway. This is a great outdoor winter experience where attendees will take a tractor ride of the 130-acre farm. Visitors will find out what equipment is needed to collect sap, learn how to identify maple trees, and lend a hand in the process. In the Sugar Shack, visitors can see how sap is produced into delicious maple syrup. $3 per person to attend and 100% pure maple syrup available to purchase. Call 732.977.3607 to find out more, or click here.

March 24: Jersey Shore Comic Book Show at the Elks Lodge in Toms River from 10am-4pm. If you are a comic fan, don’t miss this comic book festival featuring artists, writers, costume groups. Guests include Joe del Beato from Marvel Comics and the Star Wars 501st Legion. There will also be raffles, door prizes, and a costume contest. $3 admission. Learn more by calling 609.242.7756 or visit http://www.jerseyshorecomicbookshow.com/

March 27-31: Garden State Film Festival in Asbury Park. The festival begins on 3/27 with a 7pm screening, and various films are shown at different locations around the city. See the full film festival movies and schedule at https://www.gsff.org/ and purchase tickets online at https://www.gsff.org/tickets/ . There are various ticket options available for a full weekend pass, day passes, awards banquet, and more. Don’t miss this great artistic event!