Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hass and Associates Accounting: Fake buyout bid underscores lax system

A fake takeover bid for Avon was filed with the SEC, causing a stir in the market and a sharp rise in Avon's shares. At the same time, it highlights the possibility that the filing system used by Wall Street is not that secure after all.

Thirty minutes before noon last Thursday, a regulatory filing appeared on the website of Securities and Exchange Commission detailing an offer from one PTG Capital Partners to buy Avon for USD 18.75 per share.

The filing caused such a stir that within several minutes, news wire services have reported on it. But when the dust settled down after noon, it turned out that the information stated in the regulatory filing is not accurate, leading some to conclude that it might be a hoax. The supposed British company and its legal representative in the US cannot be reached as well.

Avon has been rumored to be sold for some years now so this surprising filing is not entirely out of the blue. But when Avon finally stated its side, it was to deny that a buyout offer has been made for them.

Eventually, it proved to be a fake buyout bid. Throughout the day though, USD 91 million worth of stocks from Avon has been bought/sold and its stock price increased by almost USD 1.

Now, SEC officials have yet to confirm who made the fraudulent filing and if there was a clear intent at market manipulation. At any rate, concerns about the integrity of the Edgar database -- a system used by companies and financial managers who are involved in public trading to make filings -- are rising.

Apparently, companies make routine filings to the Edgar database -- totaling around 4000 filings every day -- all of which is made public at once. This is why it took some time to verify the offer. Moreover, in a bid to encourage companies to have consistent disclosure, third party filing is allowed in the Edgar system. This means that any insider, stockholder or fraudster could file to Hass and Associates Accounting's cache, for instance, even without credentials to officially file on its behalf.

It is unclear exactly how the agency verifies the filed information. According to SEC, "Under the federal securities laws, filers are responsible for the truthfulness of their filings, and they are subject to enforcement actions when they are false or misleading."

What's more, this does not seem to be the first time that Edgar database has been misused: In 2012, a false bid to buy Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory was made by a supposed British firm called PST Capital Partners through the Edgar system.

Hass and Associates Accounting noted that an important takeaway from this incident could be the breaking of the belief that being in Edgar is equivalent to a stamp of approval from the SEC.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tips to avoid tax fraud

Reports say tax fraud victims have lost around US$15 million to cybercriminals since 2013.

Fraudsters may come in many forms:

- They can pretend to be an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent, who tricked their victims into paying thousands of dollars each through phone calls. Call recipients were threatened to pay up or get charged.

- Some often used malware such as Trojan spyware, banking Trojans or remote access tools (RTAs) to gain access to potential victims’ computers or bank accounts.

- And the brazen ones present themselves as IRS agents and show up in your front door.

Over the years, the attackers’ means may have evolved but their goal remains the same, and that is to deceive victims into giving out their personal information, including Social Security numbers, banking information and other private details.

Tax-related identity theft occurs when attackers uses your stolen Social Security number to file a fraudulent tax return early in the year. You may be unaware that you are already a victim until you try to file your taxes and discover that a return has been filed using your number.

Professionals from Hass and Associates Accounting advise people to keep and protect their Social Security number and other financial information, provide it only when it’s required. Don’t just hand it over because someone asks for it.

Given in the following are examples of tax fraud with tips on how to avoid them.

1. Phone fraud

One example of a phone fraud goes something like this: Someone claims to an IRS agent calls you with bad news. He/she will say that you owe the government unpaid tax money and if you don’t pay immediately over the phone with a credit or debit card; you’ll be audited, arrested or even deported.

If you receive that kind of phone call then it’s a big lie. IRS media spokesperson, Patricia Svarnas said that’s not how IRS does business. They would never ask for your debit or credit card number, and they don’t threaten you with audits, jail time, or deportation.

2. Phishing

Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending emails claiming to be from reputable agencies or companies like IRS in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, and Social Security number, online.

These emails often include a link to a website that looks very similar to an official IRS site. You should not open attachments or click on clicks contained in these messages.

Svarnas said that never respond anything you receive through email. IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email requesting their personal or financial information, including any kind of electronic communication, such as text messages.

3. Tax preparer fraud

Some fraudulent tax preparer who claims to be a tax professional will ask taxpayers to have their refund deposited into the preparer’s checking account.

The IRS advises taxpayers to be very careful when choosing a tax preparer, not someone who recently jumped into the tax filling business to make fast money. If a tax preparer is not associated with a nonprofit or commercial service, make sure they are approved by the IRS.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Hass and Associates Accounting: Cyanogen Ready to take on Google's Android

The mobile OS-maker Cyanogen has just raised USD 80 million in its Series C funding round with backing from Twitter, Rupert Murdoch and Qualcomm, making its goal of taking Android from Google all the more possible.

The people behind Cyanogen have consistently expressed their vision to make Android a more "open" ecosystem and OS. "We're committed to creating an open computing platform that fundamentally empowers the entire mobile ecosystem from developers to hardware makers, and most importantly, consumers around the world. We're excited to have the backing of an amazingly diverse group of strategic investors who are supporting us in building a truly open Android," said Kirt McMaster, Cyanogen's CEO.

Other notable investors in the most recent round include Telefonica, Access Industries, Smartfren Telecom, Vivi Nevo and Index Ventures. In Cyanogen's previous funding rounds, they got USD 30 million from Tencent, Redpoint Ventures, Benchmark and Andreessen Horowitz. This particular round which left the startup with a total of USD 110 million was led by India's Azim Premji PremjiInvest, as reported by Hass and Associates Accounting.

Horowitz's partner, Peter Levine, who invested in the second round of funding said, "App and chip vendors are very worried about Google controlling the entire experience." He also admitted that at first he did not think "a startup could come in and create a new OS".

A number of other tech giants have already tried to crack a shot at the mobile OS market such as Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia, Blackberry, Intel, Palm and Mozilla. McMaster admitted he's well aware of the big risk and that's precisely why he thinks using Android is the only way to effectively take on Google. By making available to the public the code of Cyanogen, he's expecting to gain support from app developers who wants to have another option aside from the limited ones currently provided by Google and Apple. For instance, a payment solutions provider could create a highly customized payment system that can work better than Apple Pay or Google Wallet.

Sandesh Patnam of Premji Invest said, "We invested in Cyanogen because we're big proponents of what they're doing in opening up Android and supporting global and local ecosystem players. Cyanogen is well-positioned to become the third leading mobile OS, and we're excited to back them in growing their business on a global scale."

Formed 6 years ago as CyanogenMod Project, it started with 40-year old programmer Steve Kondik tinkering with Android code to maximize its performance. Soon enough, online forums have started to pick up on his customizable version which led to other programmers joining him. Hass and Associates Accounting's report says that as early as 2011, a million mobile phones have Cyanogen installed in it.

To date, around 50 million handsets are running Cyanogen, most of those underwent flashing and rebooting. Considering that one has to take time and effort in erasing the current OS of the phone before installing Cyanogen, it's not a stretch to say that there is indeed a demand for a highly-customizable OS.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Hass and Associates Accounting Hong Kong Tax News and Tips: 5 Tips to Avoid ID Theft and Refund Fraud During Tax Season

Your Social Security Number could be the ticket for a fraudster seeking to claim a false tax refund or worse, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). A fraud expert offers some tips for preventing such crime – or at least catching it early.

Bruce Dorris, J.D., CFE, CPA, CVA, is vice president and program director for the Austin, Texas-based Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). With nearly 75,000 members, the ACFE is the world’s largest anti-fraud organization and premier provider of anti-fraud training and education. Dorris offered the following tips for staying ahead of would-be identity thieves during tax season:

1. File as soon as possible. When it comes to filing taxes, those who put it off until the last minute face greater risk. “Fraudsters may try to claim a refund using your identity before you have a chance to submit a legitimate claim,” Dorris said. “By filing early, you can beat them to the punch – at least this year.”

2. Don’t trust that phone call or email. A common scam involves a fraudster contacting the victim, claiming to be from the IRS and asserting that the taxpayer owes money and must pay immediately. They ask for bank account, credit card or other financial information. “This isn’t the way the IRS operates, and no one should provide such information over the phone or via email,” Dorris said.

3. Check your credit history. Free credit reports are available at Information in your report can indicate whether a tax fraudster has used your identity for nefarious purposes beyond just refund fraud. “Reviewing your credit report will tip you off if anyone has been opening lines of credit in your name,” Dorris said. “Make sure all of your information is accurate and includes only those accounts and transactions you have authorized.

4. Report anything suspicious. Emails purporting to be from the IRS, strange phone calls, odd things on your credit report – any of these can be telltale signs of attempted fraud. Also, “if you receive a notice from the IRS that you filed more than one tax return or someone has already filed using your information, that’s a big red flag,” Dorris said. “If you are informed that you have a mysterious balance due or that you received wages from an employer you have not worked for, it’s time to contact the IRS.” Call their Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.

5. If you’ve been a victim, create an Identity Theft Report. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), an Identity Theft Report will help you deal with credit reporting companies, debt collectors and businesses that gave the identity thief credit or opened new accounts in your name. “If you have been the victim of identity theft, having a record on file will help you repair the damage to your credit report and deal with any creditors who are attempting to collect on fraudulent charges,” Dorris said. “It will also place an extended fraud alert on your credit report, which can help prevent further fraudulent activity moving forward.”

More tips? Hass Associates Accounting may help you. Hass Associates Accounting was at first doing business as the Tax Center and was then evolved to an accounting industry concerning about income tax preparation. Years thought us many things, introduced us many people and their walks of life.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Tax Fraud: How Not To Become A Victim This Filing Season by Hass and Associates Accounting Hong Kong Tax News and Tips

The Internal Revenue Service has issued a lot of warnings about tax-related fraud. It’s on the rise, and it can be a real pain if you’re a victim.

If you haven’t filed yet, this is not the year to procrastinate. As I reported this week, the IRS said that threatening and aggressive phone calls by someone impersonating an IRS agent take the top spot in its annual list of “Dirty Dozen” tax scams.

The Federal Trade Commission said it received 109,063 complaints last year about tax-identity theft. It received 54,690 complaints about IRS imposter scams, up substantially from the 2,545 scams reported in 2013.

So what should you do if you try to file your tax return and realize someone else — a crook — has beat you to it and received a refund based on fraudulent return? The Washington Post’s Jonnelle Marte provides a road map to help if you’ve been a victim of tax fraud.

One of the first things you should do is report it, Marte says. “Fake tax returns need to be reported directly to the identity protection division of the IRS. Victims need to fill out an Identity Theft Affidavit to create an alert on their account,” she writes.

You should also check your credit reports. If someone has enough information to file a fake return, they have enough to cause other damage to your credit history.

Color of Money Question of the Week

What drives you nuts about tax season? Send your comments to Put “Taxing Season” in the subject line.

New to you this tax season

Looking for a nice roundup of tax issues you need to know about? Then check out the New York Times’s Jan M. Rosen’s tips for navigating the 2015 tax season.

“What’s new this tax season? In a word: Obamacare. That’s the answer given by many tax professionals,” writes Rosen, who provides tips on deductions for job hunting, state sales tax and medical expenses.

If you’ve got a question about your refund, check out these most frequently asked questions posted by the IRS.

And Jim T. Miller, writing for the Huffington Post, provides a rundown of the IRS filing requirements for this tax season.

Tax challenges for gay couples

It’s a challenging tax season for some married gay couples.

“This tax season is particularly bitter for gays and lesbians who live in states that still don’t recognize same-sex marriage,” writes Ben Steverman for Bloomberg. “After decades together, many are filing their first joint tax returns. In a growing number of states, this is easy: An additional 20 states have legalized same-sex marriage since the beginning of 2014. But in Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, and nine other states, gay couples are still treated as legal strangers. They face extra paperwork, heftier tax-prep fees, and tax questions that puzzle even the experts.”

Steverman profiles one couple who have to file five tax returns. “First, they complete a joint, official federal return that they’ll file with the IRS,” he writes. “Then, they must each fill out — but not file — a federal return as if they were single people, shadow returns they’ll use to prepare their state tax returns.”

Live chat today

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Join me at noon ET for a live, online discussion about your finances.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Hass and Associates Accounting Hong Kong Tax News and Tips: Keeping Online Tax Returns Safe From Thieves

After several states suspended e-filing through the popular online tax preparer, TurboTax itself temporarily pulled the plug on its state tax return e-filing services last week due to security concerns.

The company, owned by Intuit, which also owns QuickBooks, Mint, Quicken and a variety of other personal finance and small business accounting products, resumed all regular services the following day. (Disclosure: The author owns a small amount of stock in Intuit.)

Julie Miller, a spokeswoman for Intuit, says TurboTax has implemented a series of enhanced security measures, which includes multistep authentication, similar to the protections used by banks and financial institutions. All state tax departments have resumed accepting returns filed through TurboTax, Miller says.

Although the interruption sent shock waves through the industry, as many suspected a cyber breach, TurboTax later said that the company’s system had not been compromised. Instead, scammers had stolen personally identifiable information elsewhere, and used it to file fraudulent returns. "We want to assure our customers and taxpayers generally that TurboTax is safe and secure, and we’ve taken every necessary and appropriate action to safeguard customers’ information," Miller says.
Despite the assurances, TurboTax's troubles confirmed what fraud experts had been saying for years, that filers should be aware that tax returns are prime ground for hucksters and thieves.

Ease of Filing = Ease of Theft

For many Americans, late winter and early spring are just the beginning of the tax preparation process of receiving 1099 and W-2s, gathering receipts, contacting accountants or choosing an online tax preparer. But identity theft expert Steve Weisman, author of “Identity Theft Alert: 10 Rules You Must Follow to Protect Yourself from America's #1 Crime” and “50 Ways to Protect Your Identity in the Digital Age,” says many tax identity thieves act on the first day of filing on Jan. 20, when taxpayers are most vulnerable.

"We know the issue: that anyone can steal a Social Security number, file electronically, and all the things that are being done by the IRS and Congress to make things easy for taxpayers are making it even easier for the fraudsters," Weisman says.
And it's not just the IRS and Congress. Many companies strive to ease the burden of filing, and that convenience can come with a price. Taxpayers who file their taxes via mobile, tablets and apps, sometimes on shared wireless networks, need to be especially diligent about their security.

"One of the primary factors of tax identity theft and fraud is that you can e-file behind a computer screen, which is really convenient if you're going to do something illegal," says Matt Davis, a spokesman for the Identity Theft Resource Center. "If you're a victim of tax identity theft, you're most likely going to be a victim of the other kinds."

Both Weisman and Davis say that, aside from protecting personal information and Social Security numbers year-round, the single most important step in preventing tax-related identity theft is to file a tax return as early as possible.

"The IRS doesn't independently verify tax returns. They only know there's a problem once they've received a second return under the same Social Security number," Davis says. "If you're the first one in the door, you're going to have your taxes filed correctly. "

Weisman says that once a fraudulent tax return is filed, gaining access to an ill-gotten refund is fairly easy. "Identity thieves are able to file electronically, the refunds are sent either to a bank electronically or via a prepaid debit or credit card, or sent the old way with a check, which can then be fraudulently cashed," he says.

In addition to filing early, the Federal Trade Commission offers these tips to prevent identity theft:

•          Use a secure Internet connection if you file electronically, or mail your tax return directly from the post office.
•          Shred copies of your tax return, drafts or calculation sheets you no longer need.
•          Respond to all mail from the IRS as soon as possible.
•          Don’t give out your Social Security number unless necessary.
•          Research a tax preparer thoroughly before you hand over personal information.
•          Check your credit report at least once a year for free at to make sure no other accounts have been opened in your name.
•          And this important reminder: The IRS does not ever contact taxpayers by email, text or social media, only via regular mail. Any other forms of contact are fraudulent and should be reported.

If Your Information Has Been Compromised

Once a Social Security number has been compromised for tax fraud, it's extremely likely that it will be used for other types of fraud, including credit card and medical. People who have been victims of tax identity theft should take a sweeping response to the theft by notifying their banks, credit card companies, credit reporting agencies and the proper local and federal authorities. Weisman recommends voluntarily freezing credit reports to prevent new, fraudulent accounts from being opened with a stolen Social Security number. Such freezes can be easily removed and replaced for legitimate purposes.

"If you've been a victim of tax fraud, you need to check your credit reports. It's also a good idea to get a pre-emptive police report, and put alerts on all your accounts," Davis says. "Notifying law enforcement at the outset goes a long way to establishing your credibility with anyone you're going to have dispute the fallout of the fraud with."

The good news is there is no shortage of helpful information for tax filers. The FTC offers tips for preventing tax identity theft on its website, as does Weisman's blog, Scamicide.

Taxpayers who suspect they've been victims of identity fraud should call the IRS Identity Theft Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490 with a copy of a police report, the completed IRS affidavit (Form 14039), and state-issued identification. More information can be found in the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft on the IRS website.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hass Associates Accounting Financial fraud in 25 years: A virtual Madoff at lightning speed

From the very moment that people started using money, perhaps, some have uncovered ways of stealing it. And so, as sure as there will still be money after 25 years — or in some other form — corporate fraudsters will still be plying their trade. But innovative technologies could produce an environment where, as one retired law-enforcement official warns, “There will be no boundaries in relation to what fraud can be perpetrated.”

Crime investigators state that the crimes per se do not completely change. From our common frauds and Ponzi schemes to intricate security breaches, tax avoidance and money laundering, there are still various ways a criminal can make a dirty buck. When CNBC began in 1989, junk bond king Michael Milken was being accused of securities fraud charges in a sensational investigation. After 25 years, a new Wall Street insider-trading investigation — this time centering on hedge funds — has victimized 79 people, perhaps, more.

Imagine a world where an inside-trader can obtain his information not from an insider who works in a firm but from a hacker working outside and stealing data from the organization’s data systems in the cloud. He shares the data to others through a bunch of intricately encrypted, untraceable instant messages. The unlawful act is done in nanoseconds. The money is disbursed through virtual currency. And the criminals thrive happily plying their trade and stealing from other victims any new day.

And imagine a Ponzi schemer — a future-generation Bernie Madoff – except that he is not human at all but a poser for a rogue nation with the ability to rob you, spend your money and stash it away in a split second.

Enter the world of white-collar crime, 2039.

“Simply use your imagination as to the form of fraud you wish to perpetrate,” said Thomas G.A. Brown, who assisted in launching cyber investigations in the U.S. Attorney’s Complex Frauds Unit in Manhattan.

Brown, presently a senior managing director at FTI Consulting, said the future white-collar criminal will be quicker and more highly invisible than before — allowing the possibility for “nearly the perfect crime.”

In truth, cybercriminals can already perform some of those heists today.

“Crime in cyberspace is not merely the coming trend of the future; it is here with us now,” said E. Danya Perry, also a former senior deputy in the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office, now practicing privately. “I believe we will be seeing more of how this chameleon will evolve into a raging dragon.”

Cyberspace crimes already cost the U.S. economy about $120 billion yearly and the entire globe about $1 trillion, as revealed by a study published in 2013 by McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And all that in a crime onslaught that is comparatively only new.

Prosecutors obtained a view of what the future will look like from last year’s taking down of Silk Road — a clandestine website which officials authorities claimed was “the most advanced and widespread illegal marketplace online.”

Although Silk Road specialized on the lucrative prohibited drug trafficking, Brown of FTI Consulting reported that agents uncovered methods that could “skyrocket financial crime’s spread.”

Virtual stash

The primary technique among several promising tools is the new virtual currency called bitcoin, which is already changing the face of the global payment structure.

“Bitcoin is so hard to manage,” Brown said.

In the Silk Road case, which Brown built with others, the federal government has captured an amount of over $33 million bitcoin money from the computers of the site’s accused founder, Ross William Ulbricht. However, that amount is a small part the $1.2 billion in sales the system allegedly generated within less than three years of operation. And detecting where the rest of the money is located is almost impossible.

“Imagine every bitcoin as being a gold bar,” Brown said. No one knows where that gold bar originated, and anyone can readily sell it for cash. “Anyone can steal it and run away with it.”

Even if agents can locate bitcoin in a certain account, that clue will not mean the owner can be traced. “No one is required to register a bitcoin account in a genuine name,” Brown said.

There exist other virtual currencies aside from Bitcoin. Back in 2013 as well, a federal grand jury in New York charged Liberty Reserve for trafficking in the currency referred to as LR. Officials captured five Internet domains and charged 35 currency-trading websites in what was billed by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara as one of the biggest global money-laundering cases in legal history.

The implications of the virtual money revolution on white-collar crime are vast. At the bottom, Brown said, the virtual cash could make tax avoidance become easier than before.

“I can enter into any kind of deal I want to derive income without paying taxes since no one is aware of what I’m doing,” Brown said.

“The financial rewards are going to be very compelling for any person to want to trespass the law ,” Perry said.

Exactly how regulators and law enforcers will clamp down on those tempting baits — and what government agencies will head the move — remains unresolved.

In March, the Internal Revenue Service released its first advisory on virtual currencies such as LR and bitcoin.

“Virtual money is considered as property for U.S. federal tax purposes,” the IRS stated in a March 25 announcement. “A disbursement with virtual cash is covered by information reporting within the same limitations imposed upon any other disbursement made in property,” the announcement stated.

Yet, in our world where financial crimes are perpetrated by faceless people, where do we point an accusing finger?

Fraudsters anonymous

“Locating people in an environment of uncertain identities is a difficult task,” said Perry. “When you have a place where you can make deals incognito, this sort of problem will keep going.”

In the Silk Road investigation, officials say numerous drug dealers and over 100,000 of their customers covered their identities by utilizing what are called tumblers, which jumbled their personal identity information to produce anonymous transactions.

Cybercriminals now also often use a technology called Tor — formerly the acronym for The Onion Router, for its multi-layered complexity — to hide their online tracks.

Tor software, which is free online, lets the user to hide his PC’s IP address — its virtual fingerprint — as well as every server’s IP address to which the PC connects.

“Imagine a gigantic pinball machine,” Brown said, where your PC is the silver ball bouncing around. Each time the ball touches a bumper, its identity — or IP address — changes and so with the bumper, making it “functionally impossible” to trace the traffic.

Aside from making illegal deals and underground websites invisible, Tor provides criminals —whether the financial kind or otherwise — a means to interact and pass on data more easily than before.

“Traditionally, you have to identify ‘Harry from Bensonhurst’ or ‘Johnny from the block’ to round up a robbery group,” Brown said.

Today, with their virtual masks covering their faces using all the new technology, white-collar criminals, hackers and identity robbers can assemble and exchange information without fear in so-called carding venues. For such bandits, chat rooms are not merely for socializing. They are sources of stolen identities, software code and even cash beyond the scope of authorities.

“A savvy crook utilizing effective functional security is almost impossible to locate,” said Brown.

Falling prey to the schemes of tomorrow’s crook, he said, are firms that are already forced to share more and more of their valuable information in the web and in the cloud so their workers and clients can readily get that information — a signal for hackers to prowl for victims.

“Many firms concentrate on merely the collecting and using of the information instead of securing that information,” Brown clarified.

Fighting back

The future white-collar cybercriminal may not be a single person. It could actually be a whole country. Brown is apprehensive of the coming “nation-state” in financial crime. “Much of this is not talked about extensively, if at all, due to its confidential nature,” he said.