The Brooklyn Bridge isn’t for sale, and the guy on the phone isn’t an IRS agent.

By: Aaron Hoffman

Hucksters, con men, and scammers have been part of the American landscape since the country’s founding. From Wild West “snake oil” salesmen to modern day Ponzi Schemers, America has certainly seen its fair share. So, who holds the dubious title of the best con man in U.S. history? That honor goes to none other than George C. Parker. During his life, Parker “sold” a number of U.S. landmarks such as Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grant’s Tomb, and even the Statue of Liberty. However, he’s most famous for “selling” the Brooklyn Bridge on a number of occasions to willing dupes. Eventually convicted of fraud, a judge sentenced Parker to serve a life term in prison. While he died in Sing Sing Prison in 1936, his legacy lives on. His antics gave rise to the phrase, “and if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.” (Thanks Wikipedia!)

While modern day scammers might not have a bridge to sell you, they certainly have other nefarious ways to part you from your money. Did you know that every year, people posing as IRS agents scam millions of dollars from Americans?

Fortunately, the IRS has some helpful tips that can keep you from falling prey to a scam.

Tip #1 – Watch the mail

Most IRS contact comes via regular mail through the U.S. Post Office. If it comes from another source, be suspicious! In addition, if the IRS has to take official action, they will first notify you via letter through the U.S. Postal Service.

Tip #2 – Listen for threats and intimidation

If you get a caller on the phone and they claim that they’re from the IRS, be aware that an IRS agent will never do any of the following:

  • Demand payment via gift card, wire transfer, or a pre-paid debit card
  • Demand that you pay taxes without the opportunity to appeal or question the amount that you owe
  • Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers, or other law enforcement officers and have you arrested for not paying.
  • Threaten to revoke your driver’s license, business license, or immigration status

Tip #3 – Look for credentials

If you get an “in-person” visit from an IRS agent, they will produce two forms of official identification; a pocket commission card and an HSPD-12 card. If they don’t have these or refuse to produce them, you can assume that they’re scammers!

Tip #4 – Who gets the money?

If your caller or visitor demands money and they want the payment to go some entity other than the U.S Treasury, don’t pay because it’s a scam.

Tip #5 – Report them!

Phone Scams

If you get a call from someone posing as an IRS Agent, contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. You can call 800-366-4484, or file an online complaint at IRS Impersonating Scam Reporting.

Also, you can report a phone scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Be sure to add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes section.

Email Scams

If you get an email from someone claiming to be from the IRS, or an IRS related component, report it to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov

For more info, please see the IRS publication How to know it’s really the IRS calling or knocking on your door.

Fun Fact!

One of the earliest recorded cases of insurance fraud comes from ancient Greece. In 300 B.C., a merchant named Hegestratos took out a large insurance policy on his ship. He reportedly planned on sinking his empty ship, selling its cargo, and pocketing the insurance money. Hegestratos’s passengers and crew caught him red-handed, and he drowned as he tried to escape (Investopedia.com).

Aaron Hoffman works for the Department of Labor and Industries. Along with his duties as Contract Manager for the COHE Program, he regularly contributes to L&I’s social media campaign. He earned his BA and MBA from Pacific Lutheran University.

Meet your local L&I representative and the entire Washington Small Business Liaison team at the “How Washington State Can Help Your Business” session at Biz Fair on Saturday, September 29 at Renton Technical College. More info at www.bizfair.org.

Tips for Success in Choosing a Business Structure

By: Stacey Romberg, Attorney at Law. www.staceyromberg.com

Choosing a business structure can be a daunting task! I recommend that entrepreneurs, in making their selection, analyze the following four factors:

Evaluate Your Risk

Does your business idea involve some risk of liability? If so, in what sense? And how much risk? For example, do you want to lead rock climbing excursions? Or to provide a more common example, suppose you want to operate a cross training gym? The risks involved in these types of businesses are clear – the participants may be injured. On another note, suppose you are a wedding photographer? You could be on the hook if the photos don’t turn out well and the bride and groom become angry and litigious. Generally speaking, if your business involves a great deal of potential risk, a business entity such as a corporation or a limited liability company (LLC) may prove helpful in shielding you from individual liability.

Evaluate Your Business Relationships

Breaking up is hard to do! Most couples, when they get married, incorrectly assume that their relationship will last forever so no prenuptial agreement is necessary. Similarly, many business owners assume they will always be able to work together well so there’s no need to spend money on legal fees to develop a corporate Shareholders Agreement or LLC Operating Agreement. These agreements govern the relationship between business owners, and can spell out what will happen if business owners are deadlocked or how a business owner may exit out of the business. A breakup of a business relationship can resemble the dissolution of a marriage, with all the accompanying drama, stress, and expense. If you are going into business with another person, enter into that relationship with caution and a solid legal agreement in place.

Confer with Your Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

Be sure, as you consider what business structure to form, to consult with your CPA about the tax implications of the various business structures. It’s important that you understand all the financial facts regarding your potential tax liabilities before making a decision.

Confer with Your Business Attorney

A business attorney should form any business entity other than a sole proprietorship. If your business is not formed properly, you may be disappointed to discover that, in the event of litigation, the business entity fails to shield you from personal liability because the structural documents are insufficient, inappropriate, or not being consistently followed.

Stacey L. Romberg, Attorney at Law. www.staceyromberg.com This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.

Buyer Beware: 6 Things to Ask the Seller for When Buying a Business

By: Rose Gundersen, Small Business Liaison with WA State Department of Labor & Industries

Did you know when you buy an existing business — or a part of one — you assume the workers’ compensation claim liabilities of that business? It’s true. The new business owner inherits the claim responsibilities and their impact on premium rates.

How to protect yourself
To uncover potential hidden future expenses and risks, ask the seller to disclose the following 6 items before you buy a business. (This information isn’t usually included in financial documents and L&I can only disclose it to the current business owner, not to a potential buyer.)

1. Injury and Cost Profile: This 1-page report covers a 5-year history of workers’ compensation and injury data for the business, including:

  • Premiums which may include savings from a Claim-Free Discount or higher rates due to time-loss or disability claims.
  • Total number of claims per year.
  • Experience factor (over 1.0 means higher rates).
  • Claims-Free Discount history.
  • Top 5 types of injuries specific to the industry and the injury types incurred by the business.

2. Injury Report: This report shows the claim expenses incurred by the business without revealing identifiable information such as the injured worker’s name or the claim number. Claim expense categories include medical, time-loss, partial permanent disability, pension, and more.

3. Estimated Future Rate Projection: This predicts the business’s future experience factor and premium expenses, assuming that the business data remains unchanged.

4. Safety and Health Consultation Report: The business’s workplace safety culture is an intangible asset or risk that you’ll inherit as a buyer. Scheduling a no-cost, risk-free L&I safety consultation will help you assess this culture and evaluate whether it is an asset or a risk. The consultation includes a walk-through visit to the worksite to look for workplace hazards and an evaluation of the Accident Prevention Program. The business can’t be fined as a result of the consultation. Correcting serious hazards, however, is required with no financial penalties.

5. Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) Log Records: Businesses with 11 or more employees may be required to record workplace injuries and illnesses on an OSHA 300 log (OSHA.gov).Reviewing these logs will inform you of hazards and the effectiveness of workplace health and safety programs. (The business must keep these reports on site for 5 years.)

6. Risk Management Consultation: This free consultation provides a review of the business’s injury history and a step-by-step plan with best practices to help control costs. If you plan to proceed with the purchase after learning the injury history and safety culture, a risk management consultation is an excellent mitigation step.

Partial business purchases
Even if you purchase only a part of a business, you can inherit the seller’s workers’ compensation liabilities. For example, if you bought a customer list, inventory or other partial assets and employees working in those reported risk classifications were injured on the job, you could potentially assume the claim liability.

Example of potential impact
To better understand workers’ compensation rates, remember that:

  1. The risk class reflects the overall loss history of each industry.
  2. The experience factor reflects the loss history of the business.
  3. A claim affects a business’s experience factor for 3 years, but your rate won’t be affected for 2-3 years after the injury date.
  4. An experience factor above 1.0 means more claim liability than average for that industry. An experience factor below 1.0 means less claim liability than average for that industry.

Assuming 10 full-time employees working 480 hours per quarter, here is an example of how various experience factors could affect the annual premium you’ll pay.

Table showing how a business's experience factor affects workers' compensation premium rates. Row 1: Telephone clerks with a risk class base rate of $.1569/hour will cost $3,012 at a 1.0 experience factor, $2,711 at a 0.9 experience factor, and $6,025 at a 2.0 experience factor. Row 2: Roofing work with a risk class base rate of $7.6753/hour will cost $147,366 at a 1.0 experience factor, $132,629 at a 0.9 experience factor, and $294,732 at a 2.0 experience factor.

More resources
If you’d like to learn more about ways to protect yourself and manage premium costs for your business, visit www.Lni.wa.gov/ControlMyCosts or our Help for Small Business web page.