Mass., Vermont Halt Refunds Over Fraudulent Use of TurboTax

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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — State tax refunds are being delayed as the Department of Revenue investigates reports of fraudulent returns through the popular TurboTax service.

Some 19 states are looking into potential tax fraud being perpetrated through the Intuit Inc. tax preparation software by individuals using identity theft to file for refunds.

"Our first concern is the protection of Massachusetts taxpayers' personal information," said DOR Commissioner Amy Pitter in a statement. "We want to be sure that the tax refunds currently in the pipeline are being sent to the legitimate taxpayer. We have temporarily stopped issuing refunds in order to further scrutinize the returns based on new information that we received in our discussions with other state agencies and the country's largest provider of third-party tax preparation software." first reported early Friday that Minnesota had stopped accepting state filings through TurboTax; Intiut on Thursday began temporarily holding state filings while it worked with state governments to resolve the issues.

The Vermont Department of Taxes also halted state refunds.

"We understand the role we play in this important industry issue and continuously monitor our systems in search of suspicious activity," said Brad Smith, Intuit president and chief executive officer, in a statement posted on the company's website. "We've identified specific patterns of behavior where fraud is more likely to occur. We’re working with the states to share that information and remedy the situation quickly. We will continue to engage them on an ongoing basis in an effort to stop fraud before it gets started."

The DOR has about 160,000 returns claiming refunds in its system. All will "receive additional scrutiny before refunds are released to taxpayers," DOR officials said in a statement.

"The Department already employs a vigorous fraud filter system that was responsible for stopping $25 million in fraud in the last filing season. However, in an abundance of caution, DOR will further review returns currently in the pipeline before releasing refunds," it continued.

DOR said its data was secure and uncompromised and that the fraud occurred from breaches external to its system.

According to media reports, the fraud was discovered by a number of tax filers in several states who signed into their accounts to find someone had already used their names to file for refunds.

If the state cannot authenticate a return, the taxpayer will be contacted by mail requesting additional information and identity verification.

"We want to minimize the impact to taxpayers," said Pitter. "But it is essential that we take all necessary precautions to protect taxpayers and reduce the cost of fraud for the commonwealth."

The Internal Revenue Service said it had strengthened its protection systems and continues to accept income tax filings; taxpayers are encouraged to file their forms an normal. In January alone, it had accepted more than 14 million returns and issued 7.6 million refunds, officials said in a release.

Masaschusetts taxpayers with concerns about their individual return should contact the Department of Revenue's customer service group at 617-887-6367. TurboTax customers who believe they may be victims of fraud can call toll-free at 1-800-944-8596.

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Estate Plans Can Help You Answer Questions About the Future

Submitted by Edward Jones

The word "estate" conjures images of great wealth, which may be one of the reasons so many people don't develop estate plans. After all, they're not rich, so why make the effort? In reality, though, if you have a family, you can probably benefit from estate planning, whatever your asset level. And you may well find that a comprehensive estate plan can help you answer some questions you may find unsettling – or even worrisome.

Here are a few of these questions:

* What will happen to my children?
With luck, you (and your co-parent, if you have one) will be alive and well at least until your children reach the age of majority (either 18 or 21, depending on where you live). Nonetheless, you don't want to take any chances, so, as part of your estate plans, you may want to name a guardian to take care of your children if you are not around. You also might want to name a conservator – sometimes called a "guardian of the estate" – to manage any assets your minor children might inherit.

* Will there be a fight over my assets? Without a solid estate plan in place, your assets could be subject to the time-consuming, expensive – and very public – probate process. During probate, your relatives and creditors can gain access to your records, and possibly even challenge your will. But with proper planning, you can maintain your privacy. As one possible element of an estate plan, a living trust allows your property to avoid probate and pass quickly to the beneficiaries you have named.

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