It should come as no surprise that cash is the most popular target of fraud perpetrators. After all, once stolen, cash itself is virtually untraceable. But that doesn’t mean forensic accounting professionals can’t unearth cash fraud schemes — and the crooks behind them.

3 categories

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, there are three main categories of cash fraud (which includes checks because they’re easily converted to cash):

  1. Theft of cash on hand,
  2. Theft of cash receipts, and
  3. Fraudulent disbursements.

The last category comprises many of the most frequently executed schemes, such as overbilling and “ghost” vendor or employee schemes. For example, overbilling vendors usually submit inflated invoices by overstating the price per unit or the quantity delivered. A dishonest vendor also might submit a legitimate invoice multiple times. Overbilling may involve collusion with employees of the victim organization, who typically receive kickbacks for their assistance.

Employees also can conduct billing fraud on their own, submitting bogus invoices payable to a fictitious vendor and diverting the payments to themselves. Similarly, an employee might set up payroll disbursements to nonexistent ghost employees.

Tracing schemes

Cash can be difficult to trace once it’s in the hands of a thief. But forensic experts usually are able to trace the path that stolen cash took before the fraudster pocketed it. This includes who “touched” the cash and what prompted its flow out of the organization.

Inflated invoices, for example, often leave a trail of red flags. Experts look for invoices that bill for “extra” or “special” charges with no explanation. Other suspicious signs include round dollar amounts, or amounts just below the threshold that requires management’s signoff, and discrepancies between invoice amounts and purchase orders, contracts or inventory counts.

If forensic experts suspect that fictitious billing has occurred, they often investigate accounts with no tangible deliverables — such as those for consulting, commissions and advertising — and check vendor addresses against employee addresses. Invoices with consecutive numbers or payable to post office boxes receive extra scrutiny.

Returned checks can supply useful information, too. Fraud perpetrators are more likely to cash checks, whereas legitimate businesses typically deposit them and rarely endorse checks to third parties.

To trace ghost employee schemes, experts examine payroll lists, withholding forms, employment applications, personnel files and other documents. The information collected from these sources may provide vital links between actual and ghost employees that wouldn’t otherwise be apparent.

To catch a thief

Strong internal controls are instrumental in preventing cash-type schemes. But even the strongest controls sometimes fail to prevent a determined fraudster. If that happens, we can help your business ferret out the fraud and track down the perp. Call or email us today for help– 205-345-9898 or info@covenantcpa.com.

© 2019CovenantCPA

Donating to charity is a key estate planning strategy for many people. It reduces the size of your taxable estate and it can help you leave a lasting legacy with organizations you care about.

The benefit of making such gifts during life rather than at death is that you may be eligible for an income tax deduction. Qualifying for a charitable deduction is, in some respects, a matter of form over substance. The IRS could disallow a deduction, even if it’s otherwise legitimate, if you fail to follow the substantiation requirements to the letter.

If you’ve made charitable donations in 2018, it’s wise to review the substantiation rules as you file your 2018 tax return. Here’s a quick summary of the rules:

Cash gifts under $250: Use a canceled check, receipt from the charity or “other reliable written record” showing the charity’s name and the date and amount of the gift.

Cash gifts of $250 or more: Obtain a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the charity stating the amount of the gift, whether you received any goods or services in exchange for it and, if so, a good-faith estimate of their value. An acknowledgment is “contemporaneous” if you receive it before the earlier of your tax return due date (including extensions) or the date you actually file your return. Also, there’s no need to combine separate gifts of less than $250 to the same charity (monthly contributions, for example) to determine if you’ve hit the $250 threshold for the contemporaneous written acknowledgment requirement.

Noncash gifts under $250: Get a receipt showing the charity’s name, the date and location of the donation, and a description of the property.

Noncash gifts of $250 or more: Obtain a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the charity that contains the information required for cash gifts plus a description of the property. File Form 8283 if total noncash gifts exceed $500.

Noncash gifts of more than $500: In addition to the above, keep records showing the date you acquired the property, how you acquired it and your adjusted basis in it.

Noncash gifts of more than $5,000 ($10,000 for closely held stock): In addition to the above, obtain a qualified appraisal and include an appraisal summary, signed by the appraiser and the charity, with your return. (No appraisal is required for publicly traded securities.)

Noncash gifts of more than $500,000 ($20,000 for art): In addition to the above, include a copy of the signed appraisal (not the summary) with your return.

Failure to follow the substantiation rules can mean the loss of valuable tax deductions. We can help determine if you’ve properly substantiated your 2018 charitable donations. Call us today at 205-345-9898.

© 2019 Covenant CPA

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), many more businesses are now eligible to use the cash method of accounting for federal tax purposes. The cash method offers greater tax-planning flexibility, allowing some businesses to defer taxable income. Newly eligible businesses should determine whether the cash method would be advantageous and, if so, consider switching methods.

What’s changed?

Previously, the cash method was unavailable to certain businesses, including:

  • C corporations — as well as partnerships (or limited liability companies taxed as partnerships) with C corporation partners — whose average annual gross receipts for the previous three tax years exceeded $5 million, and
  • Businesses required to account for inventories, whose average annual gross receipts for the previous three tax years exceeded $1 million ($10 million for certain industries).

In addition, construction companies whose average annual gross receipts for the previous three tax years exceeded $10 million were required to use the percentage-of-completion method (PCM) to account for taxable income from long-term contracts (except for certain home construction contracts). Generally, the PCM method is less favorable, from a tax perspective, than the completed-contract method.

The TCJA raised all of these thresholds to $25 million, beginning with the 2018 tax year. In other words, if your business’s average gross receipts for the previous three tax years is $25 million or less, you generally now will be eligible for the cash method, regardless of how your business is structured, your industry or whether you have inventories. And construction firms under the threshold need not use PCM for jobs expected to be completed within two years.

You’re also eligible for streamlined inventory accounting rules. And you’re exempt from the complex uniform capitalization rules, which require certain expenses to be capitalized as inventory costs.

Should you switch?

If you’re eligible to switch to the cash method, you need to determine whether it’s the right method for you. Usually, if a business’s receivables exceed its payables, the cash method will allow more income to be deferred than will the accrual method. (Note, however, that the TCJA has a provision that limits the cash method’s advantages for businesses that prepare audited financial statements or file their financial statements with certain government entities.) It’s also important to consider the costs of switching, which may include maintaining two sets of books.

The IRS has established procedures for obtaining automatic consent to such a change, beginning with the 2018 tax year, by filing Form 3115 with your tax return. Contact us to learn more at 205-345-9898.

© 2018 Covenant CPA

Many retail businesses implement careful controls over the use of their cash registers. For this reason, register-disbursement schemes are among the least costly types of cash frauds. Without such controls, however, businesses risk significant losses. Here’s how to make sure your company is doing everything it can to prevent this type of fraud.

Red flags

Issuing fictitious refunds and falsely voiding sales are a couple of common ways employees steal money. Both methods involve paying out cash without a corresponding return of inventory and usually result in abnormally high inventory shrinkage levels.

But high shrinkage is just one way to spot cash register disbursement fraud. Other red flags include:

  • Disparities between gross and net sales,
  • Decreasing net sales (increasing sales returns and allowances),
  • Decreasing cash sales relative to credit card sales,
  • Forged or missing void or refund documents,
  • Increasing void or refund transactions by individual employees, and
  • Multiple refunds or voids just under the review limit.

Any of these warning signs may warrant investigation. A fraud expert can help you determine whether discrepancies have innocent explanations or indicate a more serious problem.

Prevention measures

Your business can prevent cash register theft by taking preventive measures. These include having written ethics policies and providing employees with antifraud training. In many cases of register theft, several employees are aware that it’s happening. So be sure to provide a confidential hotline or other means for employees to report unethical behavior without fear of reprisal.

Your fraud detection and deterrence program should also include training internal auditors to regularly perform horizontal analysis of income statements. Horizontal analysis — which compares financial statement line items from one period to the next — can identify suspicious trends, such as an increasing number of cash refunds.

Professional help

Taking these simple steps can prevent significant losses. But signs of extensive cash register theft usually indicate bigger issues. Contact us. We can help you nip theft in the bud by strengthening internal controls and, when necessary, assemble evidence for criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits. Call us today at 205-345-9898.

© 2018 Covenant CPA

You’ve no doubt heard the old business cliché “cash is king.” And it’s true: A company in a strong cash position stands a much better chance of obtaining the financing it needs, attracting outside investors or simply executing its own strategic plans.

One way to ensure that there’s always a king in the castle, so to speak, is to maintain a cash reserve. Granted, setting aside a substantial amount of dollars isn’t the easiest thing to do — particularly for start-ups and smaller companies. But once your reserve is in place, life can get a lot easier.

Common metrics

Now you may wonder: What’s the optimal amount of cash to keep in reserve? The right answer is different for every business and may change over time, given fluctuations in the economy or degree of competitiveness in your industry.

If you’ve already obtained financing, your bank’s liquidity covenants can give you a good idea of how much of a cash reserve is reasonable and expected of your company. To take it a step further, you can calculate various liquidity metrics and compare them to industry benchmarks. These might include:

  • Working capital = current assets − current liabilities,
  • Current ratio = current assets / current liabilities, and
  • Accounts payable turnover = cost of goods sold / accounts payable.

There may be other, more complex metrics that better apply to the nature and size of your business.

Financial forecasts

Believe it or not, many companies don’t suffer from a lack of cash reserves but rather a surplus. This often occurs because a business owner decides to start hoarding cash following a dip in the local or national economy.

What’s the problem? Substantial increases in liquidity — or metrics well above industry norms — can signal an inefficient deployment of capital.

To keep your cash reserve from getting too high, create financial forecasts for the next 12 to 18 months. For example, a monthly projected balance sheet might estimate seasonal ebbs and flows in the cash cycle. Or a projection of the worst-case scenario might be used to establish your optimal cash balance. Projections should consider future cash flows, capital expenditures, debt maturities and working capital requirements.

Formal financial forecasts provide a coherent method to building up cash reserves, which is infinitely better than relying on rough estimates or gut instinct. Be sure to compare actual performance to your projections regularly and adjust as necessary.

More isn’t always better

Just as individuals should set aside some money for a rainy day, so should businesses. But, when it comes to your company’s cash reserves, the notion that “more is better” isn’t necessarily correct. You’ve got to find the right balance. Contact us at 205-345-9898 to discuss your reserve and identify your ideal liquidity metrics.

© 2018 Covenant CPA