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Accounting and Tax Planning

Fight Back with Diligence, Communication, Monitoring, Education

By Julie Quink, CPA, CFE

Julie Quink

Julie Quink

In recent months, business owners have been faced with difficult business decisions and worries surrounding the financial and safety impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the temporary closure of non-essential businesses, layoffs and the health of their workforce, remote work, and financial stability (short- and long-term) for their business.

In short, they have had much on their minds to stay operational on a day-to-day basis or in planning for reopening. And with that, businesses are prime targets for fraud schemes.

As professionals who counsel clients on best practices relative to fraud prevention and detection techniques, we unfortunately are not immune to fraud attempts as well. The filing of fraudulent unemployment claims is a scheme for which we have recent personal experience. The importance of internal controls — and making sure that appropriate controls are in place in a remote environment, with possibly leaner staff levels — should be heightened and reinforced.

Fraudulent Unemployment Claims

The filing of fraudulent unemployment claims has been one of the newest waves of fraud surrounding employees. These claims certainly have an impact for the individual for whom a claim is filed, but also have further-reaching implications for the victimized business as well.

In these schemes, an unemployment claim is filed using an employee’s identifying information, including Social Security number and address. Unfortunately, if you have ever been a victim of a data breach, you can feel confident that your personal information has been bought and sold many times since that initial breach.

Since these claims can be filed electronically, an online account is created by the fraudster for the individual. In that online setup and given that unemployment payments can be electronically paid, the fraudster sets up his or her own personal account as the receiver of the unemployment funds.

“The filing of fraudulent unemployment claims has been one of the newest waves of fraud surrounding employees. These claims certainly have an impact for the individual for whom a claim is filed, but also have further-reaching implications for the victimized business as well.”

In most cases, the first notification that an unemployment claim has been filed is a notice of monetary determination received by the individual via mail at their home address from the appropriate unemployment agency for the state that the claim has been filed with. By then, the claim has already made its way to the unemployment agency for approval and has gone through its system for approvals. In these pandemic times, the unemployment agencies have increased the speed at which claims are processed to get monies in the hands of legitimate claimants, but in the process have allowed fraudulent claims to begin to enter the process more rapidly.

So, you might wonder how this impacts a business if the claim is fraudulently claimed against an individual. Again, with some personal firm experience in tow, we can say that these claims are making it to determination status at the business level.

Even though the claim is fraudulent and, in some cases, the employee is gainfully employed at the business, the claim makes its way to the employer’s unemployment business account. Hopefully, affected individuals have been notified through some means that the claim has been filed. However, employers should not bank on that as a first means of notification of the fraud.

Perhaps employers are monitoring their unemployment accounts with their respective states more frequently because they may have laid off employees, but for those employers who still have their workforce intact, the need to monitor may not be top priority.

Impact of the Scheme

The impact on an employer of a fraudulently filed unemployment scheme targeting one of its employees is not completely known at this time because the scheme is just evolving. However, we do know this scheme merits notification to employees of the scam and increased monitoring of claims — both legitimate and false — by the company, all during a time when financial and human capital resources are stretched.

The scheme could cause employer unemployment contributions going forward to be inflated because of the false claims. For nonprofit organizations, which typically pay for unemployment costs because claims are presented against their employer account, this scheme could have significant financial implications.

For the individual, the false claim, if allowed to move through the system, shows they have received unemployment funds. This has several potential negative effects, including the ability to apply for unemployment in the future, the compromise of personal information, and the potential tax ramifications in the form of taxable unemployment benefits even though the monies were not actually received.

Detection and Prevention Techniques

Internal controls surrounding the human resources and payroll area should be heightened and monitored to encompass more frequent reviews of unemployment claims.

Communication with employees about the unemployment scam and the importance of forwarding any suspicious correspondence received by the employer is key. The employee may be the first line of defense.

Also, working in a remote environment should give business owners cause to pause and re-evaluate systems in place, including data security and privacy. It is unclear how these fraudsters may be obtaining information, but it is critical to be diligent and reinforce the need for heightened awareness relative to e-mail exchanges, websites visited, and data that is accessible.

Diligence, communication, monitoring, and education are important for business owners to prevent and detect fraud. Diligence in ensuring appropriate systems are in place, continued open and deep lines of communication with team members, monitoring relative to the effectiveness of systems, and educating team members on the changing schemes and the importance of their role are effective first steps.

Julie Quink is managing principal with West Springfield-based accounting firm Burkhart Pizanelli; (413) 734-9040.

Guide to Senior Planning Special Publications

Guide to Senior Planning

What was once a demographic ripple has become a full-blown wave — and it’s getting bigger.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000, the number of adults age 65 and older was 35 million, or 12.4% of the total population. In 2016, the number of seniors had risen to 49.2 million or 15.2% of the population.

By 2030, the bureau estimates, more than 20% of U.S. residents will have passed their 65th birthdays, and by 2035, that demographic will outnumber children younger than 18 — an unprecedented swing.

What does all this mean?

It means it’s time to prepare — the sooner, the better.

As the Baby Boom generation continues to march into their retirement years — at the rate of 10,000 per day — Americans are living longer than ever. But what that life will entail, post-65, can wildly vary depending on lifestyle preferences, health status, finances, and more.

The questions are myriad. What levels of care are available, and what do they include? How will I pay for all of this, especially if I, or my parents, live well past 80 or 90? How do I approach mom or dad with my concerns that they might not be able to live alone anymore? What’s an estate plan, and what documents do I need to worry about?

It’s a lot to think about, and no single guide can answer all those questions. But hopefully, this special section will sort through some of the confusion and get those conversations started.

Reserve Your Space for the 2020 Senior Planning Guide

The 2020 Senior Planning Guide will be inserted into the Aug. 17 issue of BusinessWest issue and  the July/August issue of Healthcare News and will also be available online as an interactive flipbook. Sponsorship & advertising opportunities are available. 

For more information on sponsorship and print ad rates contact:
Kate Campiti 413.781.8600 (ext. 106) [email protected]
Kathleen Plante 413.781.8600 (ext. 108) [email protected]

Local Business Advice

The Wealth Technology Group

By: Gary F. Thomas, JD, LLM, CLU, ChFC, AIF, CDFA

Earlier this year I received a call from “Jen”, a concerned client. She had just learned from her older brother that her widowed, elderly mother, who lives in Rhode Island, had fallen a couple of days before and had been admitted to the hospital with broken ribs and several fractures. Even though Jen was in the regular habit of calling her mother once or twice a week, the fall occurred shortly after their last conversation and was a shock.

Jen immediately dropped what she was doing and drove to the hospital. While visiting she perceived that her mother was suffering from more than the fractures, but was also somewhat disoriented, which Jen assumed was because of medications that were administered to alleviate pain.

When asked why she was not notified of the fall immediately she was told that mother and her brother who lived nearby just “didn’t want to worry her”. Of course Jen was worried, not only about her mother’s health but also about her mother’s finances, and whether any plan was in place to prepare for the unexpected. All along she had assumed that her brother, who was a retired comptroller, had everything under control.

When Jen questioned her brother, he said that even though he had dealt with finances for his entire life, he was uncomfortable talking to Mom about money, because it was too close to home. He wasn’t sure what planning their mother had done, whether or not she had even the most basic legal documents, and if so where they were located.

“They learned that their mother, who had lost her husband more than twenty years earlier, had never updated the documents after their father’s death.”

Unfortunately, they were forced to have the difficult conversation about money with their mother while she was still in the hospital, admittedly, not an ideal time. They learned that their mother, who had lost her husband more than twenty years earlier, had never updated the documents after their father’s death. Mom said that the lawyer who had prepared them had retired long ago, and she wasn’t sure where the originals were. More than that, she was not quite certain of her banking and financial accounts because the names of the institutions had changed so many times over the years, and she found it difficult to keep track of what she owned. Mom said she had just been assuming that, because of her son’s financial background “he would take care of things” should any health or financial issues arise.

Fortunately since her accident, Mom has returned home and appointments were made for the whole family to meet with a local attorney to complete some basic estate and elder law planning. Now, both Jen and her brother have located Mom’s insurance policies, financial accounts, and credit cards, and keep track of accounts monthly. They have updated the beneficiaries on life insurance and retirement accounts, which are now set up to avoid probate. For the first time, they have a clear picture of their mother’s assets, income and expenses.

Unfortunately, many incidents like this don’t quite turn out as well. Lack of planning and lack of time can cause a financial disaster. Often costly financial decisions are made in the heat of the moment and without full knowledge of the resources available, tax consequences, or the affect of the parent’s ongoing needs.

Our advice: Broach the conversation about money after you have completed your own estate and financial plan, then share with your parents what you have done, which may make it easier to begin the conversation.

 


Gary F. Thomas

JD, LLM, CLU, ChFC, AIF, CDFA

“Because it’s not what you make … it’s what you keep!”

Gary is the President of The Wealth Technology Group, with offices in Pittsfield and Westfield. His company serves over a thousand individuals and businesses in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and across the country, helping them reduce taxes, diversify their portfolios, and keep more of what they have.

Gary is a native of Pittsfield and is a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Western New England University Law School. He is a member of the Massachusetts Bar and holds the prestigious Master of Laws in Taxation degree from Boston University Law School. Gary is a Chartered Life Underwriter and a Chartered Financial Consultant. He is also certified as an Accredited Investment Fiduciary, having met the ethical and education standards of a prestigious network of forward-looking investment professionals dedicated to advancing fiduciary responsibility.

Gary has conducted courses on retirement planning, financial management, and estate planning at General Dynamics Corporation, Tubed Products, the Massachusetts Nurse’s Association, Plumbers and Pipefitters Locals 4 and 104, Westfield State University, Berkshire Community College and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and has lectured financial planning and insurance professionals throughout the U.S. and internationally on best practices and customer service. He specializes in education about safe money management and the maximization of pension and Social Security benefits, so that his clients enjoy a stress-free retirement.

Gary is a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Financial Planning Association, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, and the International Association of Financial Planners; he sits on the Board of Directors of the MCLA Foundation. Last year, Gary was honored to be appointed a member of the Board of Trustees for Western New England University. He also underwrites programming for WHMP, Channel 57, and is a member of the Westfield Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau. He was chosen Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year for 2013 by the Western Mass Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Gary is a presence on local media and is sometimes called upon to comment on financial news. Every few weeks Gary also has some fun talking about financial topics with Bax & O’Brien on Rock102. His programs are available on the station websites, and are podcast on iTunes and at www.wealthtechnology.com. He has appeared nationally on Fox Business News, and has been quoted on the Forbes and CNN Money websites.

(800) 266-6793

[email protected]

www.wealthtechnology.com

Local Business Advice

The Wealth Technology Group

By: Gary F. Thomas, JD, LLM, CLU, ChFC, AIF, CDFA

A couple of weeks ago I spoke with a potential client on the phone who had recently purchased some trusts through an online service, and had questions about them. To create the trusts he spoke with an individual on the phone and filled out a short questionnaire listing his wishes, assets and beneficiaries. A short time later received the documents. He was told that the trusts would accomplish his three primary objectives:

Probate Avoidance

Estate Tax Reduction

Asset Protection

I responded that without reading the trusts carefully as well as knowing more about his current financial situation, it would be impossible for me to answer his concerns. We agreed to meet.

Bill arrived carrying a handsome, two-inch thick leatherette folio with his family name embossed in gold lettering on the cover. The binder included two trusts: a Revocable Living Trust and an Irrevocable Asset Protection Trust. Neither trust was funded. In addition, there was a “pour-over” will, designed to fund the Living Trust with probate assets at the time of Bill’s passing.

After chatting with Bill, I learned that he was seventy-three years old, and had two adult sons who were comfortable financially. Up until the creation of his trusts, he had a simple Will leaving all his assets to Martha, his wife of 40 years. She had recently passed after a lengthy illness, motivating Bill to reconsider his estate planning options.

Bill’s major assets included a sizable conservatively invested 401k which listed his children as beneficiaries. Bill’s other assets consisted of a couple of CDs, a modest checking account and a three-bedroom ranch built in the 1960s. Although Bill would be considered to be financially comfortable, his combined assets were only slightly above the one million dollar threshold for Massachusetts estate taxes, with no likelihood of approaching the Federal limits.

The trusts would not serve to avoid probate or to protect Bill’s assets. His major asset, the 401k, was already set up to avoid probate as it had named beneficiaries. As a retirement account it is protected from creditors under both Massachusetts and Federal law. Transferring his 401k to the Irrevocable Trust would necessitate cashing it out, resulting in an income tax disaster.

Bill asked what course he should take regarding the CDs and his home. He could, if he chose, transfer his CDs into either trust but as they were only a modest portion of his assets, the net effect of doing so would be marginal. And although he could transfer his home to the Irrevocable Trust in the hopes of protecting it from the high cost of long-term care, he would still be required to spend down his other assets to qualify for care.

Properly structured, drafted and funded, trusts are valuable tools for probate avoidance, asset protection and estate tax avoidance, but they are not needed by everyone. Basic estate planning documents such as a Will and a Durable Power of Attorney, with careful selection of beneficiaries plus proper insurance planning often produces the desired outcome.

Please consult a qualified professional who can assess your situation and guide you properly through your estate planning journey.

Social Security Informational Workshop: June 11, 13, 18, & 20th • 6:30 pm

Wealth Technology Conference Center – 130 Southampton Rd, Westfield, MA

 


Gary F. Thomas

JD, LLM, CLU, ChFC, AIF, CDFA

“Because it’s not what you make … it’s what you keep!”

Gary is the President of The Wealth Technology Group, with offices in Pittsfield and Westfield. His company serves over a thousand individuals and businesses in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and across the country, helping them reduce taxes, diversify their portfolios, and keep more of what they have.

Gary is a native of Pittsfield and is a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Western New England University Law School. He is a member of the Massachusetts Bar and holds the prestigious Master of Laws in Taxation degree from Boston University Law School. Gary is a Chartered Life Underwriter and a Chartered Financial Consultant. He is also certified as an Accredited Investment Fiduciary, having met the ethical and education standards of a prestigious network of forward-looking investment professionals dedicated to advancing fiduciary responsibility.

Gary has conducted courses on retirement planning, financial management, and estate planning at General Dynamics Corporation, Tubed Products, the Massachusetts Nurse’s Association, Plumbers and Pipefitters Locals 4 and 104, Westfield State University, Berkshire Community College and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and has lectured financial planning and insurance professionals throughout the U.S. and internationally on best practices and customer service. He specializes in education about safe money management and the maximization of pension and Social Security benefits, so that his clients enjoy a stress-free retirement.

Gary is a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Financial Planning Association, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, and the International Association of Financial Planners; he sits on the Board of Directors of the MCLA Foundation. Last year, Gary was honored to be appointed a member of the Board of Trustees for Western New England University. He also underwrites programming for WHMP, Channel 57, and is a member of the Westfield Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau. He was chosen Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year for 2013 by the Western Mass Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Gary is a presence on local media and is sometimes called upon to comment on financial news. Every few weeks Gary also has some fun talking about financial topics with Bax & O’Brien on Rock102. His programs are available on the station websites, and are podcast on iTunes and at www.wealthtechnology.com. He has appeared nationally on Fox Business News, and has been quoted on the Forbes and CNN Money websites.

(800) 266-6793

[email protected]

www.wealthtechnology.com

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