Florida CPAs offer help in the wake of Hurricane Irma

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The Florida Institute of CPAs has created a website to assist accountants in the Sunshine State and line up volunteers and office space for those affected by Hurricane Irma.

The site, https://irma.ficpa.org/, said FICPA has a Member Services Team to help FICPA members recovering from the effects of the devastating storm. They can be reached at (800) 342-3197 or by emailing msc@ficpa.org. Volunteers who can help FICPA CPAs or others in the affected areas can also send a message to the same email address and they will be contacted about how they can pitch in with the relief efforts. In addition, people who have disaster-related technical tax questions can email them to the same address, and FICPA experts plan to provide answers to technical questions on an ongoing basis.

FICPA has also set up an online form for CPAs who need office space if their buildings have been damaged. After they fill it out, FICPA will try to match them with available office space in their area.

The site also includes links to tax relief and disaster resources from the Internal Revenue Service, such as an IRS Disaster Relief Resource Center for Tax Professionals. Another link connects to a website set up by the Florida Attorney General’s office to report price gouging in the aftermath of the hurricane.

The site also includes a link to a brochure on how to protect CPAs and their clients from assignment of benefits fraud, a form of fraud perpetrated by unscrupulous contractors who offer to do repairs. Assignment of benefits is a provision in a vendor’s repair contract, also known as “direction to pay,” allowing shady repair companies and trial lawyers to lure unsuspecting consumers to sign sweeping authorizations that essentially result in the consumer handing over all of the rights and benefits of the insurance policies they bought and paid for. By asking consumers to sign an AOB, a third party could be trying to take over their insurance policy, FICPA warned.

“The assignment of benefits for insurance coverage of repairs is an important topic at this time to protect consumers from unscrupulous contractors,” said FICPA CEO Deborah Curry in a statement. “Discussing this topic with your CPA can provide another layer of oversight and this brochure can inform and educate consumers.”

CPAs and their clients should also beware of shady charities that spring up in the wake of disasters like Hurricane Irma, one anti-fraud expert is warning.

“We need to be very careful because after a tragedy, these things pop up like mushrooms after a rain,” said Ralph Summerford, CPA, president of Forensic Strategic Solutions, in Birmingham, Alabama. “There are a lot of them out there. Unfortunately we’ve got con artists and scam artists who are out to profit from these things. When they make a solicitation, they tell you they’re a nonprofit organization, but all that means is they’re not looking to make a profit. It doesn’t mean they’re a charity and they’re giving their money to the programs involved. It behooves anybody to do their homework before they make a contribution.”

Summerford recommends checking out the charity on sites like Charity Navigator and Guidestar, where visitors can examine the Form 990 to see what percentage of their contributions is spent on their program as opposed to administrative and fundraising costs, as well as information about the salaries paid to the charity’s top officials. He pointed out that the Tampa Bay Times has compiled lists for the past several years of the 50 worst charities. “What you find is that they average paying 0 to 11 percent of their contributions for the programs they are sponsoring,” he noted.

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Disaster recovery Fraud prevention