JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As tax season approaches, the Better Business Bureau of Northeast Florida is warning of a scam artist in Jacksonville who is trying to steal your money and identity by pretending to be a certified public accountant.
The BBB put out an alert after the owner of an Orlando CPA firm realized someone in Jacksonville was using his firm's name to pose as a tax preparer.
But the scam was foiled when a potential customer started to ask questions about paying money upfront.
Thomas Stephens, president of the BBB of Northeast Florida, told News4Jax Friday that his office received a disturbing call from the owner of the Orlando firm. The firm's name has not been disclosed to protect the owner.
The owner of the firm told Stephens that someone from Jacksonville called him and asked a strange question.
"'Do you normally require money up front to do taxes?' He (the owner) said, 'No. What do you mean?' He (the caller) said, 'Well your office in Jacksonville attempted to get money from me.' He (the owner) said, 'I don't have an office in Jacksonville," Stephens explained.
The BBB said it was a scam, and the unsuspecting customer was about to hire a phony CPA with no credentials from the IRS to do his taxes, but a red flag was raised when the scammer asked for money upfront.
"A CPA never takes, never does that. They do the work and you get the taxes and a bill," Stephens said.
Or you pay when your services have been completed. The BBB said consumers can easily verify CPA firms by contacting the BBB or the secretary of state.
Business owners should also be on the lookout for scammers stealing their business names to use in identity fraud schemes.
The BBB warned reputable CPA firms to protect their names by periodically going online.
"Every three or four months, Google your company name to see what comes up. If this guy had done that, he would have found another location that he didn't own," Stephens said.
Criminals look for ways to steal a business’s identity by gaining access to its bank accounts, credit cards and other sensitive company information. They can do this in a number of ways: hacking into databases, phishing emails, using malware, swiping your credit card or other information in the workplace or dumpster diving for sensitive paperwork. The criminals can then secure lines of credit with banks and retailers at the expense of the victim.
The BBB warned businesses to be on the lookout for the following red flags of identity theft:
- You receive a request to verify orders you didn’t place.
- You receive phone calls from someone who is trying to verify an address for your business that is not associated with your company or that you cannot confirm.
- You receive invoices for storage, shipping or other services that you did not purchase.
The following advice can protect your company against identity thieves:
- Protect your business’s bank accounts. Review your commercial banking agreements to determine your protections and reporting requirements. Consider using a two-person authorization or other arrangement with your bank to protect against fraudulent wire transactions. Beware of phishing scams and monitor your bank account(s) frequently.
- Protect your business-identifying information. Guard your Employer Identification Number (EIN) and Tax Identification Number (TIN) the way you would your own Social Security Number. Don’t give them out unless required and shred old documents with business ID information in them. If your business or nonprofit is required to give out your EIN, keep a close eye on your credit report.
- Protect and monitor your state business registration information. Regularly review your information with the secretary of state to make sure your information hasn’t been changed or updated without authorization.
- Protect and monitor your business’ credit card, supplier and trade accounts. Keep an inventory of accounts and key contact information. Review and reconcile account statements as soon as you receive them and immediately alert your credit card company if you find fraudulent activity.
- Protect and monitor your business’s credit file. At least once a year, review your business credit reports with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Keep personal and business finances separate and consider placing a credit security freeze on your personal credit file to make it harder for thieves to open new accounts under your business’s name.
- Protect your business’s computers and networks. Restrict use of your business computers to only business activities. Install anti-virus software and keep it updated regularly. Secure your company’s wireless network.
For more information about ways to prevent business identity theft and resources for dealing with the problem if it happens to your business, visit BusinessIDTheft.org, a website operated by the Identity Theft Protection Association and the National Association of Secretaries of State.