Archive for Risk Management

Worried about Tax Return Identity Theft?

Tax-Identity-FraudIf you’re not, you should be. Filing fraudulent tax refunds with stolen identity information is one of the fastest growing areas of identity theft.

Here’s how it works:

Scammers steal your ID info, including your social security number, and then file a fraudulent tax return in your name. They get the refund & disappear with it.

You usually don’t find out until you file your own tax return or are notified by the IRS that you’ve been a victim.

Then you are stuck sorting the whole mess out.

Once you’ve been victimized, the IRS assigns you a PIN number to put on all future tax returns so that you are clearly identified. This should help prevent it from happening again.

Florida, Georgia & the District of Columbia residents seem particularly at risk for this type of identity fraud, so the IRS has a new program to help prevent it.

If you filed a tax return from one of those locations last year, you’re eligible to get a PIN number to help identify you when filing your return this year. It’s a proactive way to tell the IRS that it is really your tax return, not a fake.

Get more information on this program at


Tax Returns and Identity Theft

words identity theft and magnifying glassWe’re all aware that Identity Theft is a growing problem, but you may not realize how it can impact your tax return. Using stolen identities, thieves are filing fraudulent tax returns and stealing billions of dollars annually.

To combat this, the IRS has created an entire division (The Identity Theft Clearing House) to investigate and stop these identity thieves.

What is Tax Return ID Theft?

After stealing your identity information, someone will electronically file a fraudulent tax return in your name and generating a refund amount due. Unless the IRS flags it as a questionable return & stops the processing, the thief gets the refund. You end up with a major problem to solve.

So basically, they get the money and you get the headaches.

How Do You Know?

The usual way you find out is that after you file your return, you’ll get a notice telling you that you’ve filed two returns or that there is a balance due on a return you did not file. That’s when the fun begins and you have to work with the IRS to straighten out your tax account.

The IRS is focused on dealing with these situations and has a procedure in place, but it will still take longer than you would like to resolve and will involve personal affidavits and paperwork.

It Doesn’t Stop with the IRS

By the time you know there is a problem, you may have other identity theft consequences, such as fraudulent credit applications in your name or charges to existing credit accounts. And your information may even be used to obtain fraudulent medical services, which can compromise your medical records and coverage.

What Can You Do to Prevent ID Theft?

These are sophisticated theft rings and there are data breaches in companies all the time, so exercise extreme caution every day with your personal information.

Protecting your identity is an ongoing process. Some steps that help are:

  • Don’t give out your Social Security number unless absolutely required.
  • Use financial account passwords that are difficult for someone to guess.
  • If you are asked to supply your Social Security number on a form, question why it’s necessary before giving it out.
  • Check your free credit report every 12 months or sign up for a credit service to monitor it for you.
  • Don’t give out personal credit information unless you are certain about the trustworthiness of the recipient.
  • Don’t click on links in emails that ask for identifying information.
  • Shred documents that have personal identifying information on them

No one is immune from identity theft, so be vigilant with your personal information.


Protect Your Cell Phone’s Data

I was with someone recently who thought he had lost his cell phone & I witnessed the panic that ensued.
Fortunately the phone was merely misplaced, but in talking to him about it, it came to light that he did not have even the most minimal security on his phone. And that got me thinking about how often I watch colleagues and friends use their phones without entering a password, which is the first line of mobile phone security.
In addition to our business and personal email, how much other sensitive information is contained on your phone? And what would happen if someone got hold of that information? It could compromise your bank accounts or your business’ confidential materials or even result in easy identity theft.
Our lives are on our smart phones these days – banking information, business documents, email, restaurant preferences, calendars, text messages, contact lists, etc., etc.,…none of which is information you would want to fall into a stranger’s hands.
So, at the very least use a password one your phone – and one that is not easy to guess. It only takes a few seconds to enter a password and that’s time well spent to protect your data. There are also third party applications that allow you to wipe your data if your phone is lost or stolen, which you might want to consider installing if you have sensitive information on your phone. 

If It’s Too Good to Be True…

internet scam photoIt probably is.
This was the exceedingly painful lesson of the mortgage meltdown, with it plethora of liar loans and the promise of ever-increasing property values. But sadly, it seems that internet based scams and get rich quick schemes are popping up with increasing regularity…and bad economic times can tempt even smart people to wonder if any of them are legit.
The internet has made life really easy for scam artists – despite my spam filter settings, at least one or two email offers get through each day touting ridiculous earnings results for internet-based businesses – and all promising these riches with little or no effort on my part.
Seriously, does that really seem likely? Using a little common sense about these pitches can go a long way toward protecting you from the dangers of phishing emails, identity theft and credit card fraud.
The truth is that to build a business on the internet or anywhere else requires work and planning. It is absolutely possible to build successful internet-based businesses and a profitable, cash flowing business. It is also possible to make thousands and millions of dollars on line, but business opportunities touting claims about making millions of dollars working a few hours a day are scams. Making millions may well be true for the people who are selling this idea to the gullible or financially desperate…but that’s most likely because they managed to steal your personal information or hijack your computer when you clicked on the link and accidentally downloaded some malware.
So, before you click on the link or plunk down your hard earned cash on a “too good to be true” deal proclaiming that it is the “secret” to minting money on the internet, think twice – or more – and then move on. If these schemes were real, everyone with an email address would be a millionaire by now. So, proceed with caution.

Protect Your Brand

internet marketing wordsThe internet is a great place to market and sell your products or services, but there’s an aspect of the Wild West about it too.  You control the information that you put up on your website and the information in your press releases, but you can’t control what others post about you or where it gets posted. You can take some steps to find out, however.
So what do you do? You can hire a “clipping service,” which is a company that performs ongoing monitoring of written or electronic publications for a monthly or annual fee. You then receive copies of anything written about the business or individual you specify.
But small businesses may not have the budget for buying this type of service or feel that it isn’t necessary. One way to find mentions about your company on the internet is with Google’s Alerts service. It’s free and you can sign up through your existing Google account or at the Google Alerts site.  
Keeping any eye on your brand’s image on the web is very necessary. At a minimum, it is a good idea for all small businesses to set up alerts for their business, major products and their key employees. You can also use it to keep an eye on your competitors or their products.
Knowing what is being said about your products and company can alert you to problems and also provide insight about possible new products or services. You may even get some ideas about new marketing opportunities.
You’ll probably be surprised where your business pops up and based on your experience with the alert service, you can decide whether or not you need a paid service to monitor the information highway for you.