Thursday, May 12, 2016

Beware Tax Scams! A Personal Post to Prevent You From Falling Prey.

Imagine this: you're at home on a weekend, minding your own business, maybe getting ready to go shopping...and you get a call of people claiming to represent the IRS who have filed a law suit against you. You owe the IRS over two thousand dollars. The people on the phone tell you their names, badge numbers, and claim that unless you pay at least five hundred dollars right away they will send an officer to your house to arrest you. They speak so fast and with such confidence that you cannot help but believe them. You cannot help but feel sudden fear, overwhelmed as you are in this panicked blitz. What do you do? Do you dare risk hanging up on them to check and see if they're legitimately from the IRS or not?

Yes. You should absolutely do just that. It is highly likely you have encountered a tax scam, just as I did this past weekend; the very first tax scam I ever encountered. The only reason I didn't fall prey to it was because I didn't have the two thousand dollars in my bank account to pay them over the phone, so taken in was I by their con. And while this is embarrassing, I am admitting it to you all today to help you spot the signs of a scam and avoid getting taken advantage of by these predators.

The experience I just described is exactly what happened to me this past Saturday. Even now, almost a month after the tax deadline, these scams are still running - and sound more official than ever. They'll claim they're dredging up past tax returns (mine were as old as 2008-2013). They claim there was an error on your returns resulting in a debt of thousands of dollars. They threaten you with legal action, and it all sounds perfectly legitimate and professional. They give you their badge numbers, their names, tell you that the call is being recorded for legal purposes, and even give you a time window for when the police officer will arrive to arrest you.

And if - like me - you have no experience with such things, it will scare you. But hopefully, this article will serve to educate and inform you of what to do when you get a scary call like this.
Keep these key points below fresh in your mind should you receive a phone call similar to the one I experienced:
·         The IRS has a page on what to do if you receive a suspicious call from people claiming to be from the IRS.
·         The IRS will never demand an immediate payment, and it will always send you an official bill before attempting to contact you through the phone.
·         The IRS will never demand you pay the bill without the opportunity to question and appeal the amount. (See: Our recent blog post about the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.)
·         They will also never require you to use a specific method of payment (mine demanded I pay cash), or ask for your credit or debit card numbers.
·         And - very importantly - they will never threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If the people calling you demand ANY of those things - this is a scam and you should hang up immediately! And when you hang up, if you have gotten any of their information (their names, fake badge numbers, phone number, etc.), you should head to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration ( and report the scam via their online form.
The Inspector General will ask you when the incident occurred, if you had any financial loss (and how you paid this impersonator), and how this impersonator contacted you. You will need to enter your information should the Treasury Inspector General need contact you, and you will be given a confirmation case number to refer to. This reporting is very important - because these scams need to stop. And the only way they can is for them to be found out and exposed for what they are.

Educating yourself and making sure you know how the IRS operates, is key to making sure you don't fall prey to these heartless cons and ensuring you keep yourself and your accounts safe this tax season. For my part, I was lucky to have not had my accounts compromised, but if yours are - be sure to keep open communication with your bank, and be sure to inform the Treasury Inspector General of what has occurred. Remember those five key points to ensure your financial safety, and always be on alert.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Biz Builder's Small Business Social Series - Twitter

Today on Biz Builder we continue our Small Business Social Media series by putting the spotlight on Twitter; the platform that allows business to take flight. 
With over 320 million active monthly users, businesses of all sizes make use of Twitter every day to get their name and brand out to regular and perspective customers. All over the world people use Twitter to release news, answer questions, and target their ads to their target demographic. And while other social media platforms allow you to also communicate with your clients, Twitter - with its rapid messages and quick interface - is unique in how easy and fast you can answer inquires and speak directly about your products.
But these messages - 'Tweets' as they are called - draw criticism as much as they seem to offer boons. A major challenge faced by employers on Twitter is the 140 character limit. Not letter. Character. That means hashtags, punctuation, and even spaces count towards that 140 limit. The 140 character limit might make it hard to convey messages, but last October when CEO Jack Dorsey began a project to extend the character count, the reaction was mostly negative. Many tweeters took to their Twitter accounts to voice their upset (proper language – but sounds weird to most people – reoword)  about the removal of the character limits, fearing that it would turn Twitter into 'another Facebook'.  The idea of 'micro blogging' with smaller, more concise messaging, is one that has drawn a lot of people to Twitter - and I'm of the opinion that character limits help rather than hinder small businesses.
Small tweets for small businesses encourage new and even experienced marketers to convey the most direct and simple message. Cut away the flowery language and the unnecessary details, and you have the bare bones of news or an idea to give to the customer. And this is crucial in a world where flickering eyes on bright screens are the new normal. Most customers and potential clients hardly have the time to sit and read a 500 word article while at work, so a simple line of text telling them directly what they need to know is the new, best way to attract attention. And in this day and age when big businesses already have their brands out there and small businesses/entrepreneurs are fighting for the same recognition, anyone who markets a small business or works for themselves should embrace the small character limit. The attention span of your customer should always be in mind when composing a tweet, and when a customer's time is so precious to them, a smaller tweet with your name/brand would be a far easier thing to take time to focus on than a hundred word expose on you or your business.  As FDR said “Be sincere, Be brief, Be seated”
Working at EGP Business Solutions, I've come across both sides of this argument. When I write a new blog post, or make a new Pinterest board, and want to get the news out to our customers - it can be hard to narrow the information down to 140 characters. But what this has allowed me to do is really take the time to sit back and ask myself 'what am I doing with this post/board?' 'What is the core of my project?' 'What is the most important thing for my customers to know?' This line of thinking allows me to always keep the customer in the forefront of my mind not just when composing a tweet but making the post or board itself. What is the core? Why is this important in a world where five minute old tweets are already ancient news? This makes every post and every board its own unique challenge but also makes me more discerning on the value of my projects. What is really deserving of not just my time - but my customer's precious time?

If I can't justify that to myself in 140 characters, maybe I should re-evaluate why I want to work on a particular project.

So even though 140 characters can be tough to work with - I argue that the limit has more of an opportunity to help than it does to hinder. It demands small businesses be to-the-point, which can catch the eye of a quickly browsing customer, and ultimately serve to get your name out to the masses. And with millions of people on Twitter, that's millions of chances to communicate directly to your customer, talk about your product, and potentially make millions of sales.