3 Mistakes That Leave You Vulnerable to Identity Theft & Tax Scams

Despite all the media attention, tax scams along with Identity theft continue to plague the american public, especially during tax time. In fact, according to MarketWatch  the IRS  has seen a “400% increase in phishing and malware this tax season” compared to last season. So, what mistakes are you making that could potentially cause you to fall victim?

Mistake #1: Emailing Sensitive Information

The one is a HUGE problem, and the one I am most passionate about. Since email is so ubiquitous and simple to use most of us don’t think twice about sending our personal information to our accountants, financial planners, bankers, attorneys, etc. The problem is that most email is not encrypted and therefore not secure. Even services like dropbox are questionable when it comes to sharing documents containing your social security number, account information, etc, particularly if you are not using two-step verification. Don’t get me wrong, having free email and using a file sharing service like dropbox is great, just don’t use email for sending any information someone could potentially use to access your accounts or credit cards, open accounts in your name, or file a return to claim your refund! Also, be sure to add the extra layer of protection with dropbox if you plan to use it. If you need to send sensitive documents or information regularly, you should upgrade from free email and document sharing to a more robust, secure and encrypted solution. However, if you only occasionally need to send this type of information electronically, the person requesting the information should have their own solution in place for you to collaborate with them. For example, at Weiss Financial Group we use the Secure Client Website by eMoney and our affiliate company Weiss, Orro, & Stern uses SmartVault. Make use of these tools, because the more precautions you take the less chance you have of becoming the next victim of ID theft or fraud.

Mistake #2: Responding to a Phone Call From the IRS Saying You Owe Them Money

First off, the IRS will NEVER call your house if you aren’t already working with an agent. So, if you come home and you have a threatening message on your answering machine (do people still have those?) DO NOT call them back. If by some lapse of judgement you do call them back, DO NOT give them your Social Security number or other personal info, and NEVER give them money. It is a scam! Surprisingly, this scam keeps popping up every year, and every year people fall for it. My wife and I actually came home to one of these messages on our answering machine last year (ok, I admit, I still have an answering machine!). Obviously we did not call them back, however the message sounded authentic and was quite threatening. Want to hear a sample of one of these phony messages? Click here to watch a video I found on YouTube of an actual message left on someone’s cell phone. To see what the IRS says about all this, click here for a short video from the IRS regarding these scams along with some helpful scam prevention advice.

Mistake #3: Clicking on an email from the IRS or a Bank Requesting Personal Information

Clicking on emails from unknown sources exposes you to all sorts of bad things including a potential computer virus. So, as tempting as it is, train yourself not to open them! As I said before, the IRS will not call you at home, likewise they will not email you asking for sensitive information. Unfortunately, emails are quite easy to forge and fool you into thinking they are authentic. Just remember that the IRS will not send you a threatening email, so if you receive one don’t open it, and definitely do not hit reply.

I hope this gives you the ammo you need to protect yourself from making any of these mistakes. Be alert and be smart. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out.


Source:

  1. This material was prepared, in part, by MarketingPro, Inc.

 

Top Money Posts: Week of February 15, 2016

College and Taxes seem to be on everyone’s mind this time of year so I figured I’d share a few articles on both topics worth checking out:

From Around the Web:

I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to post a comment in the “Leave a Reply” box below if you have thoughts or questions about any of the articles I’ve shared, or simply click the “Like” button.

You can also let me know if you are enjoying the content I am sharing and if there is anything in particular you’d like to read about or have me write about. My goal is to send you these round ups once a month and write at least one original piece of content per month. Thanks for reading!

 

How to Protect Your Loved One’s Financial Future

Financial Planning Tip: February

As Valentine’s day approaches, we are thinking about the one’s we love and coming up with ways to show them we care. Once you have finished purchasing your cards, flowers and chocolates take some time this month to think about those people and whether you have appropriately planned for them. It may not be the most romantic thing to do, but now is a great time to sit down and determine if you have the proper insurance coverage to protect your loved one’s if you are not around to provide for them or if you become incapable.

To get started, ask yourself a few questions. Have your needs changed over the years? Did you get married? Did you have a child? Did you retire? Are you thinking about retirement? Have you taken on other financial responsibilities that would negatively affect the people you care about should you pass away too soon? The answers to these questions will help you figure out if you need to make some changes to your coverage. You should periodically evaluate your life insurance coverage, disability insurance coverage, and determine if long-term care insurance is appropriate. There are many resources online to help you get started. For example, to get a basic idea of how much life insurance coverage you may need, use this online calculator as a starting point. Thinking about your own demise is no fun at all, however with smart planning you will sleep better at night knowing you have taken the right steps to protect the one’s you love most.

Watch this video for even more tips:

If you would like to discuss your particular situation and how much insurance you may need to protect your family, feel free to contact me at sweiss@weiss-financial.com.

For more financial planning tips download my free report: 8 Steps to Organize & Optimize Your Financial Life. It’s packed with helpful advice, useful tips and valuable resources.

To learn what I can do for you visit www.weiss-financial.com.

How Big Should Your Emergency Fund Be?

Having an emergency fund is essential to a successful financial plan. You won’t truly understand how important it is to your financial health until the day comes when you absolutely need it. So, how much do you actually need in your emergency fund?

Rule of Thumb

The basic rule of thumb has been 6 months of take home pay or 6 months basic living expenses. However, the problem with rules of thumb is that they don’t take into account the nuances of people’s lives. The size of your fund will depend on your personal situation and financial needs. Figuring this out is more art than science.

When I work with a client I actually do use a general rule of thumb as a starting point to determine how much they should have. I try to figure out if they should save 3, 6, 9, or 12 months basic living expenses or 3, 6, 9 or 12 months take home pay. What’s the difference? Well, for one thing saving for basic expenses may be a lot easier than saving for take home pay. However, saving only for basic expenses could mean a lifestyle change when you need to start tapping that fund. Whether you can make those changes is an important question you’ll need to ask yourself when building your fund.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Take some time to think about the list of questions below. The answers to these questions will help you figure out what your emergency fund goal should be:

  • How much do you take home in your paycheck every month?
  • What are your basic monthly expenses (i.e. groceries, mortgage, car payment, insurance, utilities, etc.)?
  • What are your extras every month (i.e. shopping, entertainment, dining, vacations, children’s activities, etc.)?
  • How much are your insurance deductibles?
  • Are you married or single?
  • Do you have anyone you are financially responsible for?
  • How secure is your job?
  • If you lost your job how difficult would it be to replace your income?
  • How long would it take for you to get another job?
  • Are you retired?

Now let’s take a look at my more broad rules of thumb and who they might be good for. Keep in mind, the examples I use below to illustrate a hypothetical emergency fund assume saving for basic living expenses. You will need to increase that amount if you want to save for take home pay.

The 3 Month Fund

In my opinion, this is the bare bones amount anyone should have in their emergency fund. When you are just starting to build a fund your goal should be to set aside 3 months of basic monthly expenses.

Who is this good for?

  • Anyone just starting to build an emergency fund (Having a small fund is better than having no fund at all!)
  • Someone in the early stages of their career
  • Someone who does not have any dependants or still lives at home

Example:

  • Monthly take home pay = $3,000
  • Monthly living expenses = $2,500
  • Emergency fund = $7,500

The 6 Month Fund

Once you’ve started to make some money and have responsibilities like auto payments, rent, student loans, etc. this should be your goal.

Who is this good for?

  • Anyone with financial responsibilities
  • A married couple with no children
  • Someone who many not have a mortgage

Example:

  • Monthly take home pay = $5,000
  • Monthly living expenses = $4,000
  • Emergency fund = $24,000

The 9 Month Fund

At this point in your financial life, you may be married, have children and have a mortgage. You have accumulated a good deal of financial responsibilities and a disruption in income will cause a significant lifestyle change.

Who is this good for?

  • Someone with a mortgage
  • A couple who have similar salaries
  • A married couple with children
  • Someone who feels they can land another job within 6 months of losing their current job

Example:

  • Monthly take home pay = $7,500
  • Monthly living expenses = $5,000
  • Emergency fund = $45,000

The 12 Month Fund

When your financial situation gets more complicated and your financial responsibilities have grown, you may need to consider this larger emergency fund.

Who is this good for?

  • A married couple with unequal incomes
  • Someone with a mortgage
  • Someone who is concerned it will take awhile to replace their income if they lost their job
  • A married couple with children
  • Someone who is fairly risk averse and knows they will sleep better at night if they have a large emergency fund

Example:

  • Monthly take home pay = $10,000
  • Monthly living expenses = $8,000
  • Emergency fund = $96,000

Bonus: The 24 Month Fund

This fund is reserved specifically for retirees. It covers a much longer time frame because the emergency fund serves a different function during retirement than it does during your working years. If you are taking systematic withdrawals from your investment accounts to fund your retirement, you should have at least 24 months of basic living expenses set aside to use during market downturns. This money should be in safe and highly liquid investments like CD’s or treasuries.

Who is this good for?

  • Retirees taking systematic withdrawals from investment accounts
  • Retirees not wanting to make lifestyle changes during market downturns
  • Retirees not wanting to reduce their withdrawals during market downturns

Example

  • Monthly withdrawal from investments = $2,000
  • Emergency fund = $48,000

5 Important Things to Remember

  1. Never invest your emergency fund in equities
  2. Always keep the money for your emergency fund in safe, highly liquid investments like CDs or treasuries
  3. If you deplete your fund, make it a priority to build it back up
  4. To assist in building your emergency fund, set up a separate, designated savings account and have automatic transfers deposited into that account
  5. Avoid using a line of credit as your emergency fund

As you have seen, there is no one right way to build an emergency fund. I’ve illustrated what I believe to be a prudent approach and provided a sample of possible solutions. As such, I tend to be fairly conservative and risk averse in my recommendations as far as emergency funds are concerned. To determine your ideal emergency fund, I encourage you to honestly answer the questions above and closely examine your personal financial situation. What is good for you may not be the same as what is good for someone else.

For more financial planning tips download my free report: 8 Steps to Organize & Optimize Your Financial Life. It’s packed with helpful advice, useful tips and valuable resources.

To learn what I can do for you visit www.weiss-financial.com.