Family Businesses Must Beware of Fraud

Family Businesses Must Beware of Fraud

July 2023 Update – Family Businesses Must Beware of Fraud & Are Scholarships Taxable?

Family businesses make up a huge percentage of companies in the United States and produce much of the country’s gross domestic product. Often defined as companies that are majority owned by a single family with two or more family members involved in their management, family businesses can be a significant source of wealth. However, they may also potentially face higher fraud risks.

Major obstacles involved

Why might family businesses be more vulnerable to fraud than other companies? For one thing, prevention efforts can be hampered by loyalty and affection. One of the biggest obstacles to fraud prevention is simply acknowledging that someone in the family could be capable of initiating or overlooking unethical or illegal activities.

But like any other business, family enterprises should include internal controls that make fraud difficult to perpetrate. It may be awkward to exercise authority over members of one’s own family, but someone needs to take charge if or when issues arise. Sometimes family businesses need to hit the reset button and reestablish a hierarchy and process of authority while moving forward with the enterprise.

Advantage of independent advice

Of course, the person in charge potentially could be the one defrauding the company. That’s why independent auditors and legal advisors are critical. Your family business should look outside its immediate circles of relatives and friends and retain professional advisors who can be objective when assessing the company. Audited financial statements from independent accountants protect the business and its stakeholders.

If your company is large enough to have a board of directors, it should include at least one outsider who’s strong enough to tell you things you may not want to hear. In some extreme cases, members of all-family boards have been known to work together to bilk their companies. This becomes much more difficult when collusion requires the assistance of an outsider.

Punishing the perpetrator

Another factor that makes preventing fraud in family businesses hard is how they tend to handle fraud incidents. Even when legal action is an option, families rarely can bring themselves to pursue action against one of their own. Sometimes families choose to save the fraudster from public scandal or punishment rather than maintain ethical professional standards. Many fraud perpetrators know that.

If you discover a family member is committing fraud, consult with a trusted attorney or accountant. An advisor may want to explain to the perpetrator the illegality and possible consequences of the fraudulent actions. If such interventions don’t work, however, you and other family members may have no choice but to seek prosecution.

Avoid blind trust

There are plenty of advantages to working with family members, but you also need to watch for pitfalls. To maintain high ethical standards and prevent fraud, rely on professional advisors and nonfamily officers to provide perspective and objective advice. Contact us for help with internal controls.

Are Scholarships Taxable?

If your child has been awarded a scholarship, that’s cause for celebration. For some students, a scholarship means the difference between going to the college of their choice and starting at community college, or even not going at all. But be aware that scholarships may bring tax consequences.

Generally, but not always

Scholarships (and fellowships) are generally tax-free for students at elementary, middle and high schools, as well as those attending college, graduate school or accredited vocational schools. It doesn’t matter if the scholarship makes a direct payment to the individual or reduces tuition.

However, subject to limited exceptions, a scholarship isn’t tax-free if the payments are linked to services that the student performs as a condition for receiving the award, even if the services are required of all degree candidates. Therefore, a stipend a student receives for required teaching, research or other services is taxable, even if the student uses the money for tuition or related expenses.

What if you, or a family member, is fortunate enough to be an employee of an educational institution that provides reduced or free tuition to employees and their families? Such a reduction in tuition isn’t included in the employee’s income or subject to tax.

Returns and recordkeeping

If a scholarship is tax-free and the student has no other income, the award doesn’t have to be reported on a tax return. However, any portion of an award that’s taxable as payment for services is treated as wages. Estimated tax payments may have to be made if the payor doesn’t withhold enough tax.

The student should receive a Form W-2, “Wage and Tax Statement,” showing the amount of these wages and the amount of tax withheld. But any portion of the award that’s taxable must be reported even if no Form W-2 is received.

Basic rules

These are just a few of the basic rules. Other rules and limitations may apply. For example, if your child’s scholarship is taxable, it may limit other higher education tax benefits to which you or your child are entitled. As we approach the new school year, best wishes for your child’s success. Please contact us if you wish to discuss this or any other tax matter.