The Latest Fraudulent Bank Check Scam

You are probably wondering why the scam artists keep coming up with new ways to try to rip you off.  It’s because they are well paid to do it by uninformed people who take their bait, including attorneys throughout the U.S.  Here’s the latest:

Sir/Ma

We are a Chinese Company based in the Hong Kong involved in the production and exportation of semi Finished steel products such as, Low alloy vessels, Carbon plates, Ship Building plates and Plates for boiler/Vessel to Canada and USA.

We are looking to expand our business network in these countries but presently we are having problems receiving payment for already supplied goods because most payment comes in our Customer’s local Canadian Cheques/Drafts. And it takes too long to clear the payments in the Hong Kong.

We are looking to hire the services of any individual/ legal Company that resides in the Country  as a payment receiving agent for our customers .

You will be required to receive the payments from our customers in your Country in the form of Cashers Checks , bank draft  and cash delivery , you will in turn send the payment to us. You are entitled to 15% Commission of every payment you receive.

You will be receiving at least 4-5 payments monthly. If you are interested in being our Payment receiving agent, please get back to us
with the following information.

Full Names:
Full Contact Address:
Age: (25yrs and Above)
Tel #:
Fax #:
Occupation:

Apply immediately to the Human Resource manager via email:

Sharon Kadiri
Owen Machinery., LTD.,

6/F,Trade Service Center  ,388 Kwun Road

Kowloon, Hong Kong

These scam artists are so good, they create web sites for their phony companies, and may even have a “live” telephone which is answered by a no-gooder.  Beware anything that asks you to accept certified cashier’s checks, and then wire money out of the country.  Your “cut” is usually too good to be true, because it isn’t true at all!

Records Management for Personal Stuff

Another great post by Patti Spencer, Esquire details which personal records you should keep permanently.  If you tend to hoard more than you should, maybe this will enable you to throw some things away without worry.  Read “What To Keep and What to Throw Away (Part Two of Two)”.

Job Opening – Accounting Manager, Law Firm

Immediate job opening:  A Montgomery County, PA law firm has an opening for an Accounting Manager. The responsibilities include overall direction and supervision of accounting operations, general ledger, financial reporting, accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll, banking, cash receipts, collections and billing. Federal, State and Local tax reporting, preparing financial plans and annual budgets, and managing accounting staff. The desired candidate should possess previous experience in a law firm. Knowledge of Aderant Platinum a plus. Professional written and verbal communication skills required. Send resume and salary requirements to Joan Wean.

Can You Deduct Business Expenses Combined With Vacation Activity?

It’s common practice to  add some vacation activity to  a business trip to help defray the cost.  When and to what extent is it really deductible?  Today’s post is written by guest blogger Patti S. Spencer, Esquire

Patti Spencer

Patti Spencer

Patti is a nationally recognized Trusts, Estates and Taxation Lawyer, Writer and Expert Witness. Her areas of concentration include trusts, estate administration, settlement, and planning, as well as, inheritance tax, fiduciary liability,  and tax planning.

 

The cost of a pure business trip is 100% deductible.  Unreimbursed hotel, airfare, car expenses, cleaning, telephone, tips, are all 100% deductible as well.  Up to 50% of the cost of meals are deductible.  In general, travel expenses are the ordinary and necessary expenses of traveling away from home for your business, profession, or job.

What if you add on a few “vacation days”?  After all, here you are in Paris, are you going to skip  the Louvre?  If the trip is an international one, the travel cost is 100% deductible if the trip is at least 75% business.  Less than 75% and then the deductible portion of airfare is generally pro-rated based on the number of business days compared to the total number of days.  If the business trip is within the United States, the airfare is 100% deductible as long as the primary purpose of the trip was for business.  Lodging and meal expenses for business days are deductible, not for vacation days.

With smart phones, laptops and other new-fangled technology, if you spend most of your time at the Louvre answering e-mails and taking phone calls (say 4 hours) – arguably that’s a business day as well.  A business day is any day you are traveling to or from the business destination, a day when you have a pre-scheduled business appointment (regardless of how long), or a day when you spend at least 4 hours on business.

Did you ever see those advertisements for trade associations or professional associations putting on seminars in seaside resorts?  Those travel expenses are most likely 100% deductible.  The seminar or conference fees are deductible as well.

If the trip is primarily for vacation, then you cannot deduct hotel and travel expenses.  Visit the IRS Tax Topic page for more specifics.

Remember: it is very important to keep records.

Be reasonable.  (Hiring a luxury limo and driver on the trip when you drive yourself in a used car at home is not reasonable.)

If you are an employee, deductible travel deductions are claimed on Form 2106 and are miscellaneous itemized deductions for which you receive a tax benefit only to the extent they exceed 2% of adjusted gross income.  If you are self-employed, expenses are deductible on Schedule C or the appropriate business return.  You can get more information in IRS Publication 463: Travel, Entertainment, Gift and Car Expenses. Keep receipts and a log of your travel and activities.  More detail is better.

 

Job Opening – Senior Associate in Estate Admin & Probate

Job opportunity!  Wolf, Baldwin, a busy, 8 attorney law firm in Pottstown, Montgomery County (additional offices in Reading and West Chester) seeks a senior associate with significant experience in estate administration and probate to manage their well-established estate planning and probate practice.  This is a great opportunity for a solo attorney tired of management headaches, or an attorney in a larger firm who wants to work in a more close-knit environment.  Strong computer skills a must.  The ideal candidate would also have experience in estate planning, and possibly an LLM as well.  This is a long-term career prospect.  Salary commensurate with experience, health insurance and 401(k) included.  E-mail resume and cover letter to Levi Wolf.

Economic Recovery Eludes Legal Industry

If job gains and losses are any indication of economic recovery, it is safe to say that the general economy continues to inch out of the recession pit, but the legal industry is still in the hole.  The most recent report by the US Department of Labor indicates that the legal industry lost 1,200 jobs in April, even as the economy as a whole saw the highest monthly job creation in more than two years.

According to DOL, the private sector as a whole has posted a job gain for 50 consecutive months.  That’s clear evidence that the recovery is moving at a snail’s pace.  Still, it keeps improving, and that’s what counts.  It has always been a peculiarity of the legal industry in that it lags behind the general economy;  slower to experience dips, and slower to recover.  So it’s not surprising at all.

Optimists like myself take comfort in knowing that eventually our sector will catch up.  Just keep in mind that the economy in the legal industry will never return to where it was.  There will be some expansion in some practice areas.  But as a whole we’re going to be faced with flat or diminished client demand and strong competition from firms of all sizes.

If you’ve been hanging on by a thread waiting for the recovery to bail you out –trying to avoid making changes which might be painful — it’s time to make the hard decisions.

Windows Security Patches Released

Microsoft Released a security patch on Thursday, May 1st, which fixed all Windows versions of Internet Explorer, including for Windows XP!

XP has been out of support, but with a heavy installed base — estimated at 30% of the world’s computers by some — Microsoft made an exception to its policy by updating the operating system.  At a lot of law firms, there was a visible sigh of relief.  Kudos to Microsoft for doing the right thing.

Personally, I took the opportunity to change my default browser to Chrome, and I don’t regret it.  There are a few software packages I have which are not compatible.  For example, Copernic Desktop Search.  But I only use that for searches internal to my system, so I don’t really care.

In case you’re curious, data from NetMarketShare.com indicates that Windows 7 powers 49.27% of the world’s computers, while Windows 8.0 and 8.1 combined account for only 12.24%.   MAC versions 10.6 through 10.8 combined holds 3.25% of market share.   That number surprises me, as I’m seeing strong growth in the legal industry.

Computer Security Issues – Windows XP, Adobe Flash, Internet Explorer

When Homeland Security issues a warning about new risks of using your computer, you should stop and pay attention.  When mighty Microsoft tells you to temporarily stop using one of their programs due to a security issue, you should stop and pay attention once you’ve recovered from fainting.

Yes folks, our computing environment has just gotten a whole lot riskier, especially when exploring the internet.

First, let me advise you that the issues have not yet been resolved, despite reports issued based on misinformation and misunderstanding.  That’s because we’re dealing with multiple issues, on multiple software platforms.

The issue dealing with Adobe Flash Player was resolved (hopefully) by a security update from Adobe on Monday, April 28.  That problem involved a Flash bug that was attacking computer visitors of a Syrian government web site.  Although that bug was significant, it is not at all related to the major boo-boo in Internet Explorer.  And it’s doubtful it would have impacted too many of you in the legal environment.

The “big” Microsoft bug, which Microsoft is currently scrambling to address with a patch, affects versions 6 to 11 of Internet Explorer.  It potentially gives data thieves the same access to a network computer as a legitimate user.  Microsoft has acknowledged that there have been “limited, targeted attacks that attempt to exploit a vulnerability.”  Excuse me?  It can’t be so limited if Homeland Security is involved, along with every major media outlet.

The security flaw in Internet Explorer comes into play if you click on a bad link.  Not the type which gives you an innocent “404, Not Found” but rather the kind which takes you to a fake web site, where malicious code can be injected into your computer.  Some of these sites are so realistically designed, you have no clue they’re fake and “bad”.

This is the first major security flaw discovered since Windows XP support was discontinued.  That means that when the security patch is issued, both Internet Explorer and Windows 8.0+ will be updated.  Windows XP will remain vulnerable.

What should you do?

  1. Stop using Internet Explorer for now.  Use one of the competitors like Google Chrome or Firefox.
  2. Don’t click on links found on web sites which go outside that site.  Rather, use your “favorites” to get to the other site, or look up the other site and go there directly.  It’s estimated that as much as 40% of legitimate web sites may unknowingly have malicious code on their site.  One example would be replacing a legitimate link with one which misdirects you to a “bad” web site.
  3. Make sure you’re installing all security updates which arrive at your computer.
  4. Be sure your anti-virus and anti-spyware software is kept up to date, and is running continuously in the background.
  5. Make sure your firewall is up to date.
  6. If you’re still using Windows XP, make a permanent change to your internet browser choice.  Also, whichever browser you choose, you may want to have your security software checking each site before it actually allows you to land on it.  It will slow your travels, but keep you much safer.

Keep in mind that you will have to get off of Windows XP in short order.  Hey, I don’t like it one bit either!  But keep in mind that law firms must take due diligence in safeguarding client confidentiality.  Knowingly using software which will never receive additional security updates is much like putting your most confidential client documents in a trash bag, and throwing it off the Empire State Building.  It’s not a question as to whether those papers will be scattered on impact, but rather how far they’ll be scattered!

Tax on Legal Services in PA

There’s no time to passively wait on this issue, folks.   Seniors are heavily in favor of tax on legal services, as it will replace property tax, and make it more affordable to hold onto their homes when limited to social security. Pennsylvania Realtors (“PAR”) are also heavily pushing this tax “reform” because the real estate tax is a factor which can impact a buyer’s decision for one residence or another.  They have a well-funded PAC, and it’s alleged that among the various groups which have put this bill forward, there is $1,000,000 or more in financing pushing it forward.

On the other hand, the Pennsylvania Bar PAC has about $250,000.  Outnumbered in voices, and crushed by the funding disparity, it’s not looking good right now. The sales tax in PA will increase from 6% to 7% under SB 76.  Sales tax on legal services would be 7%.

Tax guru Kelly Phillips Erb, Esquire, makes another point:

To be clear, it’s not just sales taxes that would increase in the Commonwealth. Personal INCOME taxes in the Commonwealth will also increase in order to offset the loss in property tax revenue (likely landing somewhere around 4.25% eventually – a rate that is higher than the rate of personal income growth). That boost, together with the increase in sales tax base, will not be enough to offset the difference as initially determined by the Independent Fiscal Office. The IFO – which looks at data but does not support or oppose a position – did a rather thorough analysis of the proposal
last year.

Let your voice be heard.  Contact your Senator and express your opposition to Senate Bill 76PBA can’t do it alone.   Not only will this tax have a chilling effect on access to legal services for those of marginal income, but it will be an administrative nightmare for law firms, particularly solo and small firms.

Imagine if you have to pay sales tax when billed, but you don’t actually collect it (or your fees) for months.  Does your billing software even have the capability to charge tax?  Most do not.  That’s because there are only 3 states in the nation which tax legal services: Hawaii, New Mexico and South Dakota – which takes the form of a gross receipts  tax in each state.    Apparently FLA had a tax on legal services, but repealed it due to problems in administration.  Read the ABA statement.

Security Issues on iPhone 5s

Attorneys who use the iPhone 5s should refrain from enabling Touch ID.  There have already been two patches in response to two security flaws.  But tech experts feel that the Touch ID feature is still a risk for phones carrying confidential client information.  Michael Pham of Winstead Attorneys has some insights in a post on the WinTech blog.  He suggests that employers implement strict written policies and  procedures that require employees to keep their mobile devices current with the latest  software updates concerning security, and that they notify the company the  minute a phone goes missing.  Wise advice.  I also recommend that remote swipe be enabled before any client information is synched to the phone.

It’s important for firms to take proactive steps to protect confidential client data.  Failure to take reasonable precautions could spell malpractice.

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