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The holiday season is here in full force. Unfortunately, the good will toward all is too often undercut this time of year by con artists.
No one is immune.
Just before Thanksgiving, the Internal Revenue Service alerted tax professionals to beware of yet another email scam that potentially would lead to identity theft if heeded.
“It has come to our attention that an email is being issued to tax preparers asking them to update their e-Services information,” says the IRS notice. “This email WAS NOT generated by e-Services.” The emphasis in capital letters is by the IRS.
As the IRS shifted more of its operations online, it created e-Services, a suite of web-based tools that allow tax professionals to complete certain tax transactions online.
“The links provided in the email to access e-Services appear to be a phishing scam to capture e-Services usernames and passwords,” warns the IRS.
The tax pros are warned to not click on the links or take any other action. “There is no need to call us,” says the IRS. “Just disregard the email.”
Charity tax scam time, too
That advice is good for all of us taxpayers, too, when we get questionable communications regarding our taxes.
During holiday season, we need to have our scam alert filter on high as crooks are trying to get us to donate to fake charities.
In many cases, the con artists pitch the possible tax advantage of giving to a charity.
Yes, it is true that if you itemize your deductions on Schedule A, you can claim your donations to charity.
But the charity must be an IRS-approved nonprofit. You can be sure that the ones being pushed by scammers this holiday season are not on the IRS’ qualified organizations list.
Check charities yourself
If you get a call or email asking you to help out the less fortunate this holiday season, don’t give, at least not immediately.
If the cause appeals to your philanthropic nature, check it out yourself.
Do an online search for the group. Check out its website. Call it directly to ask about its tax-exempt status. Or go to a third party such as the BBB Wise Giving Alliance or GuideStar to check it out.
You also can use the IRS’ online tool Exempt Organizations Select Check Tool. This is a searchable database that lists most organizations that are eligible to receive deductible contributions.
In addition, notes the IRS, churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and government agencies are eligible to receive deductible donations, even if they are not listed in the tool’s database.
The key in December, and every month, is to be cautious. You want to make sure your gift goes to a legitimate group where it can do the most good. And you want to make sure you can claim the tax deduction if you choose to do so.
Paul S. Herman CPA, a tax expert for individuals and businesses, is the founder of Herman & Company, CPA’s PC in White Plains, New York. He provides guidance and strategies to improve clients’ financial well-being.