FBI Warns of Another Phishing Scam Against Employees

The FBI is now warning employers of a possible phishing scam taking place.  This one targets the employees themselves. It focuses on companies that use self-service platforms where employees can view their pay, get duplicates of W-2s and update direct deposit information.  The fraudsters are impersonating the employer’s human resources department and asking employees to update or confirm their personal information via a fake website.  The employee receives a fake email that asks the employee to click on the link provided to log into his self-service account.  The email asks the employee to logon to view a private email from HR, to view changes that have been made to their account, or to confirm that the account is still active.

By clicking on the link and entering their self-service credentials, the employee is actually giving their logon information to the fraudster. The fraudster than can go into the self-service account himself and access all of the information including W-2 and pay stub info.  He can also change the direct deposit information. In order to prevent the victim from from knowing what is going on, the fraudster will also change the email address that the self-service platform uses to send alerts when changes are made.

Payroll and human resources professionals need to be on the lookout for this type of email.  With the new tax bill causing new tax withholding decisions, many employees are making good use of these types of self-service portals.  This will be especially true when the new Form W-4 is issued by the IRS.  Employees will want to make sure they have the proper withholding under the new tax tables.  And it would not be “unusual” for payroll or HR to send out emails during this time-frame.

It is also imperative to practice what the FBI calls “good email hygiene”.  Train your employees to watch for phishing attacks and to also check the actual email address rather than just looking at the display name.  Both these items can be crucial to seeing the attack early, before the damage is done.

The Bad Guys Are Phishing Again!

It appears the bad guys are after our payroll information again.  The IRS, and state tax agencies in Michigan, Colorado, Maryland and Rhode Island are urging all payroll personnel to be wary and to educate themselves about a Form W-2 phishing scam that made victims of hundreds of organizations and thousands of employees in 2017.  I blogged about this last year but it bears repeating with the new W-2 submission deadline looming. Here’s how the scam works: cyber criminals do their homework, identifying chief operating officers, school executives or others in positions of authority. Using a technique known as business email compromise (BEC) or business email spoofing (BES), fraudsters posing as executives send emails to payroll personnel requesting copies of Forms W-2 for all employees. The bad guys are using the information to file fraudulent tax returns, or they are posted for sale on the Dark Net.

The initial email may be a friendly, “hi, are you working today” exchange before the fraudster asked for all W-2 information. In several reported cases, after the fraudsters acquired the workforce information, they immediately follow up that request with a wire transfer. The IRS is hoping that by alerting employers and payroll professionals now it can limit the success of this scam in 2018. They have also created a new process by which employers should report the scams. There are steps the IRS can take to protect employees, but only if the agency is notified immediately by the employers about the theft.

The IRS is also suggesting that employers consider creating a policy to limit the number of employees who have the authority to handle Form W-2 requests and that they require additional verification procedures to validate the actual request before emailing sensitive data such as an employee’s Form W-2.

The IRS has established a special email notification address specifically for employers to report Form W-2 data thefts. Here’s how the Form W-2 scam victims can notify the IRS:

  • Email dataloss@irs.gov to notify the IRS of a Form W-2 data loss and provide contact information as listed below
  • In the subject line, type “W-2 Data Loss” so that the email can be routed properly. Do not attach any employee personal identifiable information data.
  • Include the following:
    • business name
    • business employer identification number (EIN) that is associated with the data loss
    • contact name
    • contact phone number
    • summary of how the data loss occurred
    • volume of employees impacted by the data loss

Businesses and payroll professionals that only receive a suspect email but do not fall victim to the scam should send the full email headers to phishing@irs.gov and use “W-2 Scam” in the subject line. But payroll professionals as well as finance departments should be alert to any unusual request for employee data. Cyber criminals and their scams are constantly evolving.

Tips vs Service Charges: An IRS Reminder

The IRS wants to make sure that employers understand tax ramifications of the various payments that they make to employees or that their employees might receive.  So the IRS has posted a reminder for employers when it comes to tips verses service charges.  The key difference between the two categories affect the taxation for employees as well as the reporting. So-called “automatic gratuities” and any amount imposed on the customer by the employer are service charges, not tips.  Service charges are generally wages, and they are reported to the employee and the IRS in a manner similar to other wages. On the other hand, special rules apply to both employers and employees for reporting tips. Employers should make sure they know the difference and how they report each to the IRS.

What are tips? Tips are discretionary (optional or extra) payments determined by a customer that employees receive from customers. They include:

  • Cash tips received directly from customers.
  • Tips from customers who leave a tip through electronic settlement or payment. This includes a credit card, debit card, gift card, or any other electronic payment method.
  • The value of any noncash tips, such as tickets, or other items of value.
  • Tip amounts received from other employees paid out through tip pools or tip splitting, or other formal or informal tip sharing arrangements.

Four factors are used to determine whether a payment qualifies as a tip. Normally, all four must apply. To be a tip:

  • The payment must be made free from compulsion;
  • The customer must have the unrestricted right to determine the amount;
  • The payment should not be the subject of negotiations or dictated by employer policy; and
  • Generally, the customer has the right to determine who receives the payment.

If any one of these doesn’t apply, the payment is likely a service charge.

What are service charges? Amounts an employer requires a customer to pay are service charges. This is true even if the employer or employee calls the payment a tip or gratuity. Examples of service charges commonly added to a customer’s check include:

  • Large dining party automatic gratuity
  • Banquet event fee
  • Cruise trip package fee
  • Hotel room service charge
  • Bottle service charge (nightclubs, restaurants)

Generally, service charges are reported as non-tip wages paid to the employee. Some employers keep a portion of the service charges. Only the amounts distributed to employees are non-tip wages to those employees.

All cash tips and noncash tips should be included in an employee’s gross income and subject to federal income taxes.ployers are required to retain employee tip reports, withhold income taxes and the employee share of Social Security and Medicare taxes from the wages paid, and withhold income taxes and the employee share of Social Security and Medicare taxes on reported tips from wages (other than tips) or from other funds provided by the employee. In addition, employers are required to pay the employer share of Social Security and Medicare taxes based on the total wages paid to tipped employees as well as the reported tip income.  Employers must report income tax and Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from their employees’ wages, along with the employer share of Social Security and Medicare taxes, on Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, and deposit these taxes in accordance with federal tax deposit requirements.Tips reported to the employer by the employee must be included in Box 1 (Wages, tips, other compensation), Box 5 (Medicare wages and tips), and Box 7 (Social Security tips) of the employee’s Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement. Enter the amount of any uncollected social security tax and Medicare tax in Box 12 of Form W-2. See the General Instructions for Forms W-2 and W-3.

Reporting Service Charges: Employers who distribute service charges to employees should treat them the same as regular wages for tax withholding and filing requirements, as provided in Publication 15, Employer’s Tax Guide. Distributed service charges must be included in Box 1 (Wages, tips, other compensation), Box 3 (Social Security wages), and Box 5 (Medicare wages and tips) of the employee’s Form W-2.

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IRS Looking for Comments on Form 941 Series…Got Any?

Every so often the IRS solicits comments on its various forms. This is an excellent opportunity for payroll professionals to get their two cents in on the forms they must deal with on a regular or sometimes irregular basis.  This time, the IRS is soliciting comments concerning Forms 941 (Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return), 941-PR (Planilla Para La Declaracion Trimestral Del Patrono-LaContribucion Federal Al Seguro Social Y Al Seguro Medicare), 941-SS (Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return-American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands), 941-X, Adjusted Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return or Claim for Refund, 941-X(PR), Ajuste a la Declaracion Federal Trimestral del Patrono o Reclamacion de Reembolso, Schedule R, Allocation Schedule for Aggregated Form 941 Filers, Schedule B (Form 941) (Employer’s Record of Federal Tax Liability), Schedule B (Form 941-PR) (Registro Suplementario De La Obligacion Contributiva Federal Del Patrono), and Form 8974 Qualified Small Business Payroll Tax Credit for Increasing Research Activities.

What about the Form 941 or any of the series do you find difficult, needs better explanations, could be revamped or should just be left as is?  Now is the time to speak up.

Written comments should be received on or before July 7, 2017 to be assured of consideration, and should be directed to Laurie Brimmer, Internal Revenue Service, room 6526, 1111 Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20224. Requests for additional information or copies of the form and instructions should be directed to Ralph Terry, at Internal Revenue Service, room 6526, 1111 Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20224, or through the internet at Ralph.M.Terry@irs.gov.

 

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In Case You Hadn’t Notice–It’s Election Time Again

The election is coming up fast.  What that means to most employees and employers is questions. Employees might ask themselves “when should I vote?”.  But they might ask their employers “can I have time off to vote?”. Allowing time off to vote is a company policy question in some cases, but other times it is a question of wage and hour law.  Does an employer have to give the employee time off to vote during working hours?  And if they do, is it paid time off?   There actually is no federal law on whether or not an employee must have time off to vote. It is left up to the states to decide.

Vote campaign

And each state has their own rules.  Some states give up to four hours, where other states don’t address the issue at all.  To assist payroll professionals on this topic I have put together a white paper on the voting time off requirements for the states.  The link is below.  The info was compiled through Thomson Reuters. It should prove helpful as it also give the citation to state law.  I have also listed the states that do not address this issue.  I hope you find it useful.

white-paper-time-off-to-vote-oct-2016

 

 

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White Paper: Disaster Payments and the IRS

We are always hearing in the news about the latest disaster in the nation. Whether it be wild fires in California or flooding in Texas. Natural disasters do happen and can be annual occurrences in some parts of the nation.  When this happens, it is natural to want to help those individuals who are personally affected especially if it strikes close to home like in the case of a co-worker.  When a co-worker loses a home to a wild fire or must move out due to flood damage even employers want to help out.  But when an employer wants to help, does that change the nature of the disaster grantassistance. In other words,  if co-workers take up a collection it is one thing, but what if the employer gives the employee a grant to help cover the costs not reimbursed by insurance? Is it then taxable income and taxes must be deducted? Actually, it may not have to be. Our white paper this time is on Handling Disaster Relief Payments in Payroll.  It explains how and when these types of payments can be made and the taxation requirements.  We hope you find it useful.

white paper disaster payments 2016

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This Week’s White Paper–Employee Achievement Awards

Taxing awards to employees is always a tricky business.  Is it taxable or not?  If I take taxes out will that diminish the award or the employee’s moral over receiving it? Unfortunately, we sometimes can’t take that into consideration.  The IRS says it is taxable, so we tax.  But sometimes the IRS says it is not taxable.  Case in point, employee achievement awards. Given for length of service or safety, these awards can be given without adding it as income to the employee’s wages if done correctly. Of course, no cash or gift certificates. It must be tangible personal property like a pin for years of service or a plaque for safety.  Our white paper this week deals with when to tax and when not to tax employee achievement awards. We hope you find the information useful.  You can request your copy of our white paper on our website.

 

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Early Bird Pricing Closes Today

The early bird pricing for our first webinar of the year, How to Handle Abandoned Wages, closes today. You need to register by 5pm today in order to lock in the $99 price.  Starting tomorrow the price goes back up to $149.  So don’t miss out, register today! This webinar, as with all our webinars, is approved for 1.5 RCHs by the APA.

Keeping it 100% or Why Can’t We Just Leave It?

one hundred percent goldIt still amazes me sometimes when I see questions from my fellow payroll professionals about how accurate we have to be when it comes to tax deposits and reports.  As we all know the curse of being a payroll professional is that everything you do has to be 100% correct.  No 99% accuracy on tax deposits, no 99.9% pure on tax reporting. Most of us have had to face the question, do I really have to redo this for such a small error?  So I always get a giggle when I see the question come around on the boards about correcting something that isn’t quite 100% accurate.  I know its from someone new to our profession just asking and hoping for a certain answer but knowing in their hearts they won’t hear it. For example, a couple of weeks ago on the one of the listservs I follow someone asked the following:  We left off the employee contribution to the HSA on the Forms W-2.  Since they have already gone out to the employees do we just leave them alone?

You know the results of the responses without my listing it but let me summed it up with this short excerpt: … You can’t just say “oh, well” and dismiss the problem after statements are mailed to employees…In other words no matter what, payroll must be 100% accurate, 100% of the time.  Welcome to the world of the payroll professional! But then again, we wouldn’t want it any other way.

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So You Have A Perplexing Payroll Question?

Over the years I have been asked to research many questions.  And as you know my schedule just doesn’t permit me the luxury of answering the most perplexing questions or even the more mundane ones.  But now the American Payroll Association is looking for questions to be answered at the Annual Congress.  The APA has scheduled two Q & A sessions of the Forums on Federal Payroll Issues.  The panel will consist of speakers from the DOL, IRS, OCSE, SSA, & USCIS.  So now is the chance to get your question answered at the next Congress (in May).  You can post the question here on this blog and I will pass them along to the APA Government Relations Chair for inclusion in the panel discussion.  Just a reminder I won’t be answering the questions just passing them along. Questions are due by the end of February.