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Seven Tips to Prevent Tax ID Fraud

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Citizens Bank Minnesota Offers 7 Tips to Prevent Tax ID Fraud

Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week is Jan. 25-29

As Americans begin the process of filing tax returns, identity thieves are scheming to get their hands on that money. Tax identity theft has been the most common form of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission for the past five years. Citizens Bank Minnesota is using Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, Jan. 25-29, to raise consumer awareness and provide tips to prevent tax ID fraud.

Identity thieves look for every opportunity to steal your information, especially during tax season. Consumers should be on high alert and take every step they can to protect their personal and financial information.

Tax identity fraud takes place when a criminal files a false tax return using a stolen Social Security number in order to fraudulently claim the refund. Identity thieves generally file false claims early in the year and victims are unaware until they file a return and learn one has already been filed in their name.

To help consumers prevent tax ID fraud, Citizens is offering the following tips:

  • File early. File your tax return as soon as you’re able giving criminals less time to use your information to file a false return.
  • File on a protected Wi-Fi network. If you’re using an online service to file your return, be sure you’re connected to a password-protected personal network. Avoid using public networks like a Wi-Fi hotspot at a coffee shop.
  • Use a secure mailbox. If you’re filing by mail, drop your tax return at the post office or an official postal box instead of your mailbox at home. Some criminals look for completed tax return forms in home mailboxes during tax season.
  • Find a tax preparer you trust. If you’re planning to hire someone to do your taxes, get recommendations and research a tax preparer thoroughly before handing over all of your financial information.
  • Shred what you don’t need. Once you’ve completed your tax return, shred the sensitive documents that you no longer need and safely file away the ones you do.
  • Beware of phishing scams by email, text or phone. Scammers may try to solicit sensitive information by impersonating the IRS. Know that the IRS will not contact you by email, text or social media. If the IRS needs information, they will contact you by mail first.
  • Keep an eye out for missing mail. Fraudsters look for W-2s, tax refunds or other mail containing your financial information. If you don’t receive your W-2s, and your employer indicates they’ve been mailed, or it looks like it has been previously opened upon delivery, contact the IRS immediately.

If you believe you’re a victim of tax identity theft or if the IRS denies your tax return because one has previously been filed under your name, alert the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490. In addition, you should:

  • Respond immediately to any IRS notice and complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit.
  • Contact your bank immediately, and close any accounts opened without your permission or tampered with.
  • Contact the three major credit bureaus to place a ‘fraud alert’ on your credit records:
  • Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must do so by paper.

More information about tax identity theft is available from the FTC at ftc.gov/taxidtheft and the IRS at irs.gov/identitytheft.

Are You Ready to Leave Your Credit Cards at Home … and Pay by Smartphone?

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Paying for purchases by smartphone is becoming increasingly viable. Three major companies now enable consumers to buy goods at participating merchants with their credit or debit card by just waving a smartphone over the payment terminal. In fact, a major smartphone manufacturer recently teamed up with many banks and merchants to make the service available to anyone buying the newest version of its smartphone. What should you know about using your smartphone to pay in a store or a restaurant?

You need the right equipment. Your smartphone must contain a contactless or “NFC” (near field communication) computer chip that allows it to “talk” to the payment terminal via a wireless connection, as well as a digital wallet to store your payment card information. If you are buying a new smartphone, you can ask the salesperson if it has an NFC chip. For a phone you already have, check the “settings” menu and look for “NFC.” Your phone may already have a digital wallet feature. You can also download one through an app store or other online marketplace.

You have to load your credit or debit card information onto the phone. The setup procedure can be as easy as taking a picture of the front and back of the card with the mobile wallet application. The app will then send it to your bank for approval and to confirm that it’s really you. Some mobile wallets may allow consumers to load “loyalty” cards from favorite retailers. You may also receive store or restaurant coupons or other offers through your phone, based in part on your recent purchase history with the company.

Most merchants that accept mobile payments are large national chains, but smaller stores are beginning to sign up. A merchant must first install card terminals that accept contactless payments; they look different than the swipe terminals you are used to and display the symbol shown on the left.

As with any electronic transaction, pay attention to security issues. According to Jeff Kopchik, a Senior Policy Analyst at the FDIC, “Many security experts believe that mobile payments are more secure than swiping your magnetic stripe credit card because the mobile service keeps your credit number in encrypted form and does not transmit it to the merchant. But you still should make sure your phone is protected, such as with a password, so it cannot be accessed by a thief. Some of the newest smartphones use fingerprint readers to control access, which can be secure and convenient.”

Also make sure your phone “times out” and re-locks itself after it isn’t used for a short period of time. If you lose your smartphone, notify the bank or other issuer of any credit or debit cards that may be loaded on the phone.

“Remember that if there is a problem with a transaction, you will receive the same federal protections that otherwise apply to the underlying payment source,” noted FDIC Senior Policy Analyst Elizabeth Khalil. “For example, if the transaction drew on a credit card for payment, you will be protected by the same laws and regulations that cover credit cards.”

To learn more, start by contacting your smartphone service provider or credit card issuer.

Article courtesy of FDIC Consumer News

Common Questions on the New Farm Program

Agriculture

There have literally been hundreds of farm program information meetings held in the Upper Midwest in recent months, as well print and online articles, spreadsheets, etc., on enrollment in the new farm program.

However, even with all the information available to farm operators and landowners, there are still some recurring questions that seem to keep coming up.

The following are some of the more common, ongoing questions related to sign-up for the new farm program:

Question #1–what are the dates and timelines for enrollment in the new farm program?

The sign-up process for the new farm program at local FSA offices will take place in a three-step process:

Step #1–Now until February 27, 2015: Landowners make final decisions on updating FSA payment yields, and reallocating crop base acres on each FSA farm unit.

Step #2–Now until March 31, 2015: Producers complete the farm program choice on each farm unit, and potentially on each eligible crop. Farm program choices include the Price Loss Coverage (PLC), Agricultural Risk Coverage-County (ARC-CO), or Agricultural Risk Coverage-Individual Coverage (ARC-IC) programs.

Step #3–Mid-April to Summer 2015: Producers enroll in the 2014 and 2015 farm program simultaneously. Even though the farm program choice (listed earlier) is for five years (2014-2018), producers will still be required to make annual enrollment into the farm program at local FSA offices.

Question #2 –who makes the final enrollment choice for the new farm program?

All decisions at local FSA offices on updating FSA program yields and reallocating crop base acres for each FSA farm unit require at least one landowner signature. If a producer is an owner/operator, they could make the decision on that FSA farm unit. However, it is advisable to communicate with all landowners on a FSA farm unit regarding the base acre and payment-yield decision that is chosen, since this decision will be in place for five years (2014-2018).

Producers will make the final, 5-year farm program choice between PLC, ARC-CO, and ARC-IC for the 2014-2018 crop years on each FSA farm unit.

Landowners with crop share rental agreements are considered producers by FSA and must agree with the farm program choice on a farm unit.

Landlords with cash rental agreements will not be required to sign-off on the farm program decision. In cases, where there is a switch of producers from 2014 to 2015, the producer listed at the FSA office on the farm unit at the time of farm program sign-up would make the program choice.

Question #3–what if no choice is made for the updating payment yields, base-acre reallocation, or the farm program option?

If no choice is made for updating FSA payment yields or base acre reallocation, the existing crop-base acres and CC payment yields on a FSA farm unit, as of 2013, will remain in place for 2014-2018.

If no farm program choice is made by the sign-up deadline, the farm unit will be enrolled in the PLC program for 2015-2018, and there will be no farm program payments for the 2014 crop year. Depending on the crop, farm location, and farm program choice, this could be a very costly mistake.

Question #4–why is it important to update FSA payment yields if I am enrolling in ARC-CO?

FSA payment yields for all eligible crops will be used for payment calculations for the new PLC program, but not for the ARC-CO or ARC-IC program options. Even if plans are to choose the ARC-CO or ARC-IC program option, it may still be a wise choice to update the FSA program yields for eligible program crops on FSA farm units where there is an advantage, as these updated yields may be carried forward for future farm programs beyond 2018. The opportunity to update FSA payment yields has not been made available since 2002, and if the program yields were not updated in 2002 (counter-cyclical program), the current payment yields are the “direct payment yields,” which date back to the early 1980s, and may be even lower than the current county “plug yields” for some crops.

Question #5–when and why are “plug yields” used?

A substitute yield or “plug yield” (equal to 75 percent of the county average yield between 2008-2012) will be used in any year that the actual farm yield for a given crop falls below “plug-yield” level, as well as in any year in which a crop was raised, when there is no yield data available.

The county “plug yields” are available from the USDA FSA farm program website, and automatically are entered in to the official FSA payment yield update spreadsheet.

Question #6–what documentation is required to update FSA payment yields?

The FSA form titled: “Price Loss Coverage (PLC) Yield Worksheet” (CCC-859) is used as a worksheet for potentially updating FSA payment yields. On Form CCC-859, the crop yield for each year (2008-2012) that a particular eligible crop was raised is listed. Only the years that the crop was raised on a particular farm unit are considered for the yield update.

For example, if corn was raised in only three of the years, then those years are used in calculations. If crop insurance (RMA) data is from more than one FSA farm unit, the data will need to be prorated accordingly for the CCC-859 forms.

FSA offices will not be verifying the yield data on Form CCC-859. However, the yields reported on that Form will be subject to FSA spot checks at a later date.

Acceptable records for yield verification during “spot checks” will include RMA data that is used for crop insurance APH calculations, production evidence for grain sold or placed in commercial storage, on-farm grain storage records, livestock feeding records, and/or FSA loan records.

Question #7–why is base acre reallocation important?

All farm program payments for the new PLC and ARC-CO programs will be calculated on crop base acres, rather than on a year-to-year planted crop-acre basis.

The last time that crop base acres could be updated was in 2002, and it is possible that the updated crop base acres could continue beyond the current farm program.

The choice is to either keep the existing crop base acres (as of 2013), or to update crop base acres to the ratio of average of planted crop acres on a FSA farm unit from 2009-2012.

Total reallocated crop base acres for 2014-2018 cannot exceed the total crop-base acres that existed in 2013 farm program.

Landowners and producers should have received a listing of existing crop base acres, and the reported planted acres for 2009-2012 from the FSA in late July or early August.

Prevented-planted acres that were properly reported will count as planted acres for base acre reallocation.

Question #8–do I always want to reallocate my crop base acres?

Not necessarily. In some cases, the existing crop base acres may be more desirable than the reallocated base acres, such as in cases where the existing crop base has more corn base acres than the reallocated crop base.

Or possibly, there may be some higher value commodity crops that have a higher likelihood of farm program payments in the next five years (2014-2018), which may be eliminated through base acre reallocation.

Remember: Farm program payments for PLC and ARC-CO are determined by base acres, not planted acres, and you do not have to raise a crop in a given year in order to be eligible for potential farm program payments.

Question #9–is it advisable to maximize my corn base acres in all situations?

Many Midwest farm operators planted higher levels corn from 2009-2012, so there may be an opportunity to increase corn base acres on some FSA farm units.

In most areas of the Midwest, corn base acres tend to offer higher maximum payment potential, and greater payment likelihood (in 2014, and possibly in 2015) than other crops. However, the program payment levels and likelihood of payments may be different in other areas of the U.S., which have lower corn yield levels, or may have other alternative program crops to consider.

Question #10–how are MYA prices calculated?

The “market-year average” (MYA) price for a given crop year is used to calculate any potential payments for the PLC, ARC-CO, and ARC-IC programs. The historical MYA prices are also used to determine the benchmark revenues for both the ARC-CO and ARC-IC program options.

The MYA price for a given commodity is not based on the Chicago Board of Trade commodity prices, or any specific local or terminal grain prices. The MYA price is the 12-month national average price for a commodity, based on the average market price received at the first point of sale by farm operators across the U.S.

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service collects grain sales data on a monthly basis, which is then weighted at the end of the year, based on the volume of bushels sold in each month.

The 12-month marketing year for corn and soybeans begins on September 1 in the year that a crop is harvested, and continues until August 31 the following year. For wheat, oats, barley, and small grain crops, the 12-month marketing year begins on June 1 in the year of harvest, and continues until May 31 the following year.

Question #11–where can I find updated MYA price information?

USDA publishes monthly and season average estimated market prices for various commodities, which are available on the FSA farm program website. These average prices are also updated each month in the USDA Supply and Demand Report, which is usually released around the middle of each month. Some universities also update projected MYA prices on a monthly basis for selected crops. Kansas State University offers one of the best monthly updates of MYA prices for corn, soybeans, and wheat. The web site is at: www.agmanager.info/crops/insurance/risk_mgt.

Question #12–why do some experts recommend ARC-CO and others recommend PLC?  

There are several reasons for the difference in recommendations between ARC-CO and PLC for corn and soybeans. The biggest reason is probably future MYA price expectations, along with declining payment potential in future years with ARC-CO in scenarios with lower price expectations. If the average MYA price for corn from 2015-2018 is consistently below about $3.20 per bushel, total PLC payments for 2014-2018 for many Midwest corn producers could likely exceed total ARC-CO payments.

The situation is similar with soybeans, if the MYA price from 2015-2018 is below about $7.20 per bushel.

However, one must remember that there are no PLC payments for corn, if the MYA price is $3.70 per bushel or higher, or for soybeans, if the MYA price is $8.40 per bushel or higher.

In most counties in the southern two-thirds of Minnesota, and adjoining areas of other states, the 2014 ARC-CO payment for corn will be near the maximum payment level for the county ($60-$80 per corn-base acre in many counties), if the 2014 average county yield was at or below the benchmark county yield.

There is also very good 2014 ARC-CO payment potential for soybeans in most Minnesota counties. The ARC-CO payment potential for corn and soybeans in 2014 may not be as favorable in some areas of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, etc. that experienced extremely high county average corn and soybean yields in 2014.

Payment potential with ARC-CO for both corn and soybeans for the 2015 crop year is also very good, due to the fact that the 2014 benchmark MYA prices of $5.29 per bushel for corn and $12.27 per bushel for soybeans will likely be in place again in 2015.

Question #13–what are situations where ARC-IC might work?

Producers that select the ARC-IC program option must include all eligible farm program crops on a FSA farm unit (2014-2018), with no option for either the PLC or ARC-CO programs on specific crops.

The ARC-IC program operates very similar to the ARC-CO program, but is based on farm-level crop yields, rather than county-average yields. The biggest difference is potential payments in the ARC-IC program are made on only 65 percent of crop base acres, as compared to 85 percent of base acres with the ARC-CO program. Due to this difference, and different calculation methods with ARC-IC than ARC-CO, average farm-level yields probably need to be 25-30 percent higher than comparable ARC-CO yields to consider ARC-IC enrollment.

Question #14–what are the payment limits for the new farm program?

The payment limit for the new farm program is $125,000 per eligible individual for all proceeds from the PLC, ARC-CO, and ARC-IC programs, as well as from LDPs or gains on CCC loans. If there is more than one eligible payment entity for farm program payments, then the payment limit would increase accordingly. For example, if a husband and wife are both eligible, they would have a total payment limit of $250,000. Excluding LDPs and CCC loan gains, it would require approximately 2,500 crop base acres to reach the $125,000 payment limit at an average farm program payment level of $50 per base acre, and about 1,667 base acres to reach the limit at an average payment level of $75 per base acre.

Question #15–What are some strategies to address payment limit concerns?

Some corn and soybean producers with payment limit concerns are varying their farm program choices a bit more. They are putting some farms in ARC-CO to optimize payment potential for 2014 and 2015, when ARC-CO payments are likely to be higher, and putting some farms in PLC, in order to have more price protection in later years (2016-2018). This allows them to capture some of the benefits of both the ARC-CO program and PLC program, without sacrificing significant payment potential. Also, with PLC, farm operators can opt for the supplemental crop option (SCO) (crop insurance alternative), which is not subject to farm program payment limits. Enrollment in the SCO insurance option is done an annual basis through crop insurance agents.

Question #16 — What are the best resources for farm program information?

The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) has created a web site with up-to-date information and resources on base acre reallocation, updating payment yields, “plug yields”, ARC-CO yields, updated MYS prices, etc.

The web site is at: www.fsa.usda.gov/arc-plc.

Several land-grant universities have developed spreadsheets and decision tools, in cooperation with FSA, to assist producers and landowners with their farm program decisions. Following are some good web sites for the farm program information, spreadsheets, and other resources:

U of Illinois Farm Bill Toolbox

www.farmdoc.illinois.edu/farmbilltoolbox

Kansas State U Ag Manager Web Site

http://www.agmanager.info/policy/

U of Missouri Food & Ag Policy Center

www.fapri.missouri.edu

Article courtesy of the Independent Community Bankers of Minnesota

Citizens Bank Minnesota is pleased to announce the following promotions:

986857 Citizens 075Julia Baumgartner, Senior Vice President

Baumgartner joined Citizens in 1991 as a Vice President and Commercial Loan Officer. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Kansas State University with a B.S. degree in Finance as well as a B.A. in Spanish. She is also a graduate of the Commercial Lending School at the University of Oklahoma and the Graduate School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin.

986857 Citizens 033Tim Hoscheit, Senior Vice President

Hoscheit joined Citizens in 1986 as an Agricultural Loan Officer and was promoted to Vice President in 1991. He is a graduate of Western Wisconsin Technical College with an Associate Degree in Finance. He is also a graduate of the Graduate School of Banking at the University of Colorado.

Baumgartner and Hoscheit will be assuming senior management roles in the bank previously performed by Bill Brennan, who will be retiring in the spring.

Agricultural Act of 2014

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The “Agricultural Act of 2014,” commonly called the Farm Bill, changes many programs and rules affecting our farmers. The Independent Community Bankers of Minnesota has partnered with FSA (Farm Service Agency) and the University of Minnesota Extension to hold area meetings on the 2014 Farm Bill Dairy Margin Protection Program.  They will explore your program options and show you an available online Dairy Decision Tool that will help you make the right choice.  Citizens Bank Minnesota will sponsor a meeting in New Ulm at the Holiday Inn on Monday, November 3rd from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

We hope the location and time of this meeting allows you to attend and receive this valuable information. If you are unable to attend this meeting, please see locations and dates of the remaining meetings set for this year below.

A future meeting is being planned to address the Crop ARC (Agriculture Risk Coverage) and PLC (Price Loss Coverage). Information on future meetings will be forthcoming.  Please don’t hesitate to contact us at 507-354-3165 or 1-800-549-0194 with further questions.

The Citizens Ag Lending Team,

Bill Brennan, Tim Hoscheit, Pat Brennan, Brant Drill, Brian Shropshire, Adam Nelson, Bob Wise, Kevin Yager, Nick Peterson, Mark Denn, Duane Laffrenzen, Scott Tauer

FSA & University of Minnesota Extension Dairy Farm Bill Meetings:

Paynesville, November 3, American Legion, 10 am – 12 pm

Rochester, November 3, International Event Center, 10 am – 12 pm

St. Cloud, November 3, VFW Granite Post, 1 pm – 3 pm

New Ulm, November 3, Holiday Inn, 1 pm – 3 pm

Alexandria, November 5, Holiday Inn, 10 am – 12 pm

Wadena, November 5, VFW Mtg. Room, 1 pm – 3 pm

Lamberton, November 5, SW Research & Outreach Center, 1 pm – 3 pm

Mora/Pine City, November 6, Bowe’s Restaurant, Mora, 10 am – 12 pm

Pierz, November 6, Pierz Ballroom, 1 pm – 3 pm

Cologne, November 7, Cologne Comm. Center, 10 am – 12 pm

Equal Housing Lender - larger

Citizens Bank Minnesota’s Website Is Getting A Facelift!

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Exciting news from Citizens Bank Minnesota!

We are excited to announce that on Thursday, March 27th, we will be launching our new website! We’ll have all the same great features, just a fresh new look! You will be able to navigate to a more functional Citizens Agency site from Citizens Bank Minnesota’s home page as well.  Be sure to check out http://www.citizensmn.com on March 27th, and look through the menus and headings to get familiar with the new layout!

 

By: Sarah Seifert, Marketing Assistant

Payment Fraud Seminar

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On September 26, 2013, Citizens Bank Minnesota hosted Fred Lang from UMACHA for a business seminar for its business customers.  Mr. Lang discussed hot topics in electronic payments and also Fraud Management such as cybercrime, malware, money mules, corporate account takeovers, and internal fraud.

 

Did you know:

  • That 860,000 attempts are made each day to hack into systems?
  • That there are about 75,000 new strings of malware each day?
  • Estimated losses from account takeover fraud were over $4.9 billion in 2012, which is an increase of over 69% from 2011?

These along with other very relevant information were brought to our attention.  Mr. Lang discussed how businesses could try to protect themselves.  He stated that if your computer network was compromised have an outside expert who knows what to look for clean up the computer system.  He also stated that there was a list of risk mitigation recommendations for business users that are put out by the FS-ISAC, NACHA and the FBI.  He provided a few examples:

  • Initiate ACH and wires under dual controls.
  • Execute all online banking activities from one computer where email and web browsing is not possible.
  • Limit administrative rights on user’s workstations to prevent inadvertent downloading of malware.
  • Reconcile all banking transactions on a daily basis.

 

By: Lynn Fink, Compliance Officer

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