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Archive for August, 2009

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Which browser do you use?

2009 August 27
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Robert Vamosi at Windows Secrets today posted a very helpful (and concise) rundown of things you can do to keep your computing environment safe in the face the continuous threats from internet attacks.  Among the recommendations are to choose a security suite that does not overburden your system, but provides up-to-date protection, choosing the best way to keep your Windows environment up-to-date, and choosing the most secure browser.  I want to expand on this last topic.

In my experience, most small business users rely on Internet Explorer as their browser of choice.  And they often use an older version of IE, leaving them even more vulnerable to attack.  It may surprise you to know that security experts have long recommended alternatives such as Mozilla’s Firefox, Apple’s Safari, and Google’s Chrome, all of which have fewer security vulnerabilities.  The annoying part of this is that some websites are written so that they will only work with IE.  This means you really should have two browsers on your desktop, IE to use only when you really need it and one of the other three for normal use.  One real benefit of the alternate browser choices is they have a MUCH cleaner user interfaces.  This means you get more screen space to view the website you want to see with less of the clutter I see with most IE installations.  (Many IE interfaces I see use up 30-40% of the space on the computer screen with Google bars, Yahoo tools, security add-ons or whatever…annoying.)

Finally, keep your browser up-to-date.  Upgrade from IE 5 or 6 to IE 7 today.  Firefox and Safari will automatically tell you when there is a new update.  For Chrome, you need to manually check for updates.

IRS Features Recovery Tax Credits on YouTube, iTunes

2009 August 24
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Last Friday the IRS announced a YouTube video site and an iTunes IRS podcast site covering the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the stimulus package).

Subjects covered include

  • IRS Undelivered Refunds & Economic Stimulus Payments 2008
  • IRS Tax Breaks for 2009-2010
  • IRS Vehicle Tax Deductions
  • Home Energy Tax Credits
  • Dirty Dozen – 12 Common Tax Scams
  • Education Tax Credit

Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts

2009 August 22
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With all the recent news about secret Swiss bank accounts (see for example this IRS posting about the IRS/UBS agreement, this NY Times article, and this Wall Street Journal article), it is worth noting an easy-to-overlook section of on your tax return.

Schedule B questions about ownership or control of foreign accounts

Form 1040, Schedule B - Questions about ownership or control of foreign accounts

According to the IRS:

If you own or have authority over a foreign financial account, including a bank account, brokerage account, mutual fund, unit trust, or other types of financial accounts, then you may be required to report the account yearly to the Internal Revenue Service. Under the Bank Secrecy Act, each United States person must file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR), if

  • The person has a financial interest in, or signature authority (or other authority that is comparable to signature authority) over one or more accounts in a foreign country, and
  • The aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year.

A United States person is not prohibited from owning foreign accounts. The FBAR is required because foreign financial institutions may not be subject to the same reporting requirements as domestic financial institutions. The FBAR is a tool to help the United States government identify persons who may be using foreign financial accounts to circumvent United States law. Investigators use FBARs to help identify or trace funds used for illicit purposes or to identify unreported income maintained or generated abroad.

Identity Theft and the IRS

2009 August 19
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by dtolleth

The Internal Revenue Service Office of Privacy, Information Protection, and Data Security Actively supports Taxpayers in their efforts to protect their identities, particularly as this relates to Identity Theft, falsely filed tax returns and other taxpayer information. If you suspect you are a victim of identity theft call

  • IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service at 877-777-4778
  • IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490

Alternately, you may prefer to ask your tax professional to make these calls on your behalf.

The IRS also suggests you file a police report, contact your financial institutions, contaact all three major credit reporting agencies, and the Federal Trade Commission.

Experian

Equifax

Transunion

Federal Trade Commission