Monday, May 15, 2017

Ransomware... scary stuff

You have probably seen the news reports from this weekend about a new and dangerous type of ransomware known as "WannaCry".  Ransomware is a specialized form of cyber attack that attempts to hold your data hostage by encrypting it (essentially scrambling it in a way that only the software's creators know how to unscramble).  In order to get your data unscrambled you have to pay the software's creators a ransom (through a payment method that allows the other party to remain anonymous)... hence the name "ransomware".

You should know that is not a false alarm -- this is a real and scary situation.  You should also know that there is no single “pill” for computer system security.  Securing a computer system is done in layers such as firewalls, anti-virus software, and employee education.

The list below provides some helpful information for business owners or workplace managers.  This list is not really specific to the WannaCry ramsomware, but is a more general list of basic security measures that should be performed and maintained.  See the section in red for something you can do right now to help secure your computer system.

  • Check your firewall to confirm that its protection mechanisms against this type of malware code are up to date and activated.  Most firewalls today have "gateway security" features built-in, but these features may need to be turned on and configured in order to function properly.  Sometimes there is an annual fee paid to the manufacturer for this feature, but the protection is usually worth it.
  • Your anti-virus software, if properly implemented, should provide some measure of protection from malware code.
  • You should review your computers and patch any that are not already patched.  Do this by running Windows Update on all computers.  There is a specific Microsoft patch mentioned in almost every article written about this particular episode.
  • I suggest communicating the following information to your employees right away.  It's the best protection you can have.
    • Ransomware is often spread by computer users clicking links in emails.  Do not open or click any suspicious emails.
    • Just because an email looks like it’s from someone you know doesn’t make it OK.  Use good practical judgment and err on the side of caution. 
    • If you receive an email you are uncertain about, check with the purported sender or check with your technical support contact for advice and guidance.
    • If you think something’s up, don’t take further action yourself and contact your technical support contact immediately.

Happy computing!

Craig Rhinehart
Chief Information Officer

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Some tax return due dates have changed


The IRS has changed the due dates of Partnerships, C Corporations and FinCen tax returns effective for all returns due in the coming 2017 filing season (2016 Tax Returns).



Calendar Year Entities Old Due Date New Due Date
1120 C Corporations* March 15 April 15
Extended Due Date September 15 September 15
1065 Partnership April 15 March 15
Extended Due Date September 15 September 15
1120 S Corporations March 15 March 15
Extended Due Date September 15 September 15
1040 Individual Returns April 15 April 15
Extended Due Date October 15 October 15
FinCen Report 114 (Foreign Cash Report) June 30 April 15
Extended Due Date Not Available October 15




*C Corporations with tax years ending June 30, the current filing dates will remain in effect until years beginning after December 31, 2025. Other Fiscal year end filing dates have been revised, similar to calendar year ends, as well as extension dates.

Proponents of these changes to the return filing dates believe the changes will permit investors in partnerships and S-corporations to receive needed information before the investor’s own due date.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The dangers of online shopping during the upcoming holiday season

For today’s consumer, e-commerce has become a convenient alternative to the long lines associated with holiday shopping. Shopping online allows buyers to order goods and have them delivered to their doorstep, all without leaving their home.  As a result, shoppers are beginning to prefer “Cyber Monday” over “Black Friday”. Unfortunately, as the preference for online shopping increases, so to do the risks of identity theft and other cyber-attacks. Identifying the risks and vulnerabilities could limit the damages of fraud you could potentially face.  


What are the risks?

There are several ways others could access your personal information when shopping online. Today’s most common forms of fraud that result from shopping online include:
  • Purchasing from phony/bogus websites that offer goods or services that do not exist. You make a purchase from what you think is a legitimate website, only to have the items you ordered never show up and your credit card information compromised.
  • Purchasing goods from websites that are not secure web pages. When a website does not have certain firewall and other security capabilities, it allows hackers and cyber attackers to easily access your personal and bank account information.
  • Shopping on an unsecured Wi-Fi connection.


Prevention

While knowing the risks is important, preventing them is the most important. Here are a couple steps you could take to avoid damage.  

  • Visit Reliable Websites - Only visit websites that can be trusted (that you are familiar with and you deem to be reputable) and ensure the spelling of the web address is correct. For example, there could be a situation where you want to visit “Amazon.com” but accidentally type in “Amzon.com” which could potentially lead you to a phony website designed to make fraudulent sales. 
  • Ensure that websites are secure before entering your payment information. You can do so by looking for web addresses that begin with “https://”  or show a “padlock” beside the Web address, which symbolizes that it is a secure website. When checking out on the website, look for reliable card protection services. These include Visa’s “Verified by Visa” and MasterCard’s “SecureCode”.

  • Credit over Debit - Be cautious when choosing your method of payment. Shoppers need to be aware of the different risks associated with both credit and debit cards and realize there are certain advantages to using a credit card over your debit card when online shopping. When using a credit card you are spending the card provider’s money as compared to using a debit card, in which case you are using your money. If your debit card information falls into the wrong hands, it is your money that is at risk. In most cases, card providers (debit or credit) will work to rectify the situation for those who fall victim to fraudulent purchases, but if you used a debit card for those purchases you may not have access to those funds until the dispute is settled. If your personal preference is to avoid the use of credit cards, limit the amount of money that is in your checking account.  Minimizing the balance in your account could lower the risk of exposure to fraud when using a debit card.


Identity thieves and cyber criminals will most definitely be aggressive this holiday season. Employing these steps will help make your online holiday shopping experience safer.

Will Heard



Monday, October 3, 2016

Tips for improving your personal net worth

Net worth is simply the total value of all your significant assets minus all your debts. Assets include cash and investments, your home and real estate, and cars -- along with anything else of value that your own. Debts include all the amounts that you owe on these assets and other debts, such as credit cards. 

To improve personal net worth you must first determine where you currently stand. So let’s get started. Write down all your assets, including those items mentioned above, your retirement savings, and anything else of value. Next to each of these assets write down an honest estimated value. After determining the total value of your assets, write down all your debts/liabilities and the amounts you owe on each of them. There are several free online calculators to help you aggregate all your bank accounts/investments and credit cards, which may make this process a little easier. These calculators will also keep up with these accounts in real time so you can perform this calculation more quickly next time.  Two of the most popular are mint.com and Personal Capital.

Now that you know your current net worth, here are some tips to improve it. Keep in mind that these tips will help improve your net worth over time. Remember to set reasonable monthly and annual goals. Think of it like losing weight: losing 20 pounds overnight is an unreasonable expectation... so is doubling your net worth by tomorrow.

Tip 1:   Setup an emergency fund
The general rule of thumb for an initial emergency fund is about $1,000. Depending on your personal situation, you may need a larger amount. This fund is a good idea for several reasons. The cash is there for unexpected expenses and unforeseen events -- rather than having to use a credit card. Remember that using a credit card lowers your net worth, which is counterproductive. If you can’t put away $1,000 immediately, set up automatic transfers to a savings or money market account of whatever amount you can afford each pay period.

Tip 2:   Payoff debt
Begin by paying off the debt account with the highest interest rate and then move on down the line. Credit cards, student loans and car/truck loans (in that order) tend to have higher interest rates. Consolidating debt under a lower interest rate is often a good idea. The will be fewer accounts to keep up with and you will pay less in interest over time.

Tip 3:   Trim down monthly expenses
There are two ways to increase monthly available cash. You can make more money or you can reduce how much you spend. Generally, you have more direct control over how much you spend while you have less direct control over your salary. Evaluate your monthly expenses and determine what conveniences you can reduce  or even eliminate. Start small, such as ordering take-out one less time per week. Again, small adjustments make large improvements.  

Tip 4:   Start investing
One of the easiest ways to invest your money is a retirement plan. Employers often have a 401(k) retirement plan or some equivalent; and most will even match a percentage of whatever amount you contribute to that plan. A best practice is to contribute at least the amount that will max out your employer’s match.  If your employer does not have a retirement plan, open an IRA account with a brokerage firm of your choosing. Generally, you can open an account with small automatic transfers to the account, rather than contributing the large initial amount often required by financial institutions.

These tips will only get you started down the right path for increasing your overall net worth. Please consult with your financial advisor for a more personalized plan to suit your individual/family needs.

Eric Tydings, CPA

Monday, September 26, 2016

Another scam warning from the IRS

The IRS has recently issued a Tax Tip that you need to be aware of.  For a while now, people impersonating IRS agents have been calling our home phones and even our cell phones demanding payments for past due tax bills.  The callers routinely make threats; and when confronted with taxpayer requests for more detail as to the nature of the tax notice these "agents" sometimes get downright belligerent. 

Another, more sophisticated, type of attempt to defraud taxpayers has been identified.  These would-be fraudsters are now issuing phony letters that appear to come from the IRS in an attempt to receive payments.  Here is the link to the most recent IRS Tax Tip on how to spot one of these fake IRS letters.  Always consult your tax advisor before making any payments to the IRS.

Kris Braxton, CPA

Monday, September 19, 2016

Fraud – the Bermuda Triangle

We’ve all heard about the Bermuda Triangle – and all the stories and myths that go along with it. So, as we head into Hurricane Season 2016 it may be timely to discuss another triangle that has just as many war stories – The Fraud Triangle. This one is possibly less well known but can be just as devastating to business owners, if not acknowledged. The good thing is, with the proper attention, the effects can be minimized or avoided altogether.

All businesses can be subject to fraud – some more likely than others. The most likely individuals who will perpetrate a fraud often have multiple parts of the Fraud Triangle in place. So, what is it? The three angles of the Fraud Triangle are: Pressure, Opportunity and Rationalization. The more of these elements that are present in a loosely controlled business environment, the more likely fraud will be attempted against a company. The attached article from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners further describes and illustrates the operation of the Triangle.


Please let us know if you have questions or would like to discuss how the Fraud Triangle may apply to you. There are often several simple internal controls that can be implemented to help mitigate this risk. Like a hurricane, proper planning can minimize its disastrous results.



Jay Pease, CPA

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

IRS warns taxpayers of various scams

The IRS recently issued a warning article describing various scams that criminals are using to attempt to trick taxpayers.  The goal, of course, is to get your money.  You can read the entire article here, but I have pasted the most important parts below.
The Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers to stay vigilant against an increase of IRS impersonation scams in the form of automated calls and new tactics from scammers demanding tax payments on iTunes and other gift cards.
The IRS has seen an increase in “robo-calls” where scammers leave urgent callback requests through the phone telling taxpayers to call back to settle their “tax bill.” These fake calls generally claim to be the last warning before legal action is taken. Once the victim calls back, the scammers may threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the driver’s license of the victim if they don’t agree to pay.
In the latest trend, IRS impersonators are demanding payments on iTunes and other gift cards. The IRS reminds taxpayers that any request to settle a tax bill by putting money on  any form of gift card is a clear indication of a scam.
The IRS will never:
  • Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money and you don’t owe taxes, here’s what you should do:
  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page or call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
  • If you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.

Let's all be careful out there!

Craig Rhinehart
Chief Information Officer