Identity Theft

Attention refugee employment staff! There have recently been incidents regarding identify theft and refugees. Individuals from within and outside of the refugee community have convinced refugees to provide their social security number (SSN) and have used this information to file fraudulent tax claims.

Please let all your clients know that they should protect their social security number, alien number, and any other personal identifying information (PII). If a client reports that they suspect their identity has been stolen, please assist them in filing a report at

Include this topic in your financial literacy/job readiness curriculum:  Along with teaching clients about financial literacy and taxes, protecting PII and preventing identify theft are topics that can be easily covered in class. Here is a sample of what could be covered in a lesson:

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft happens when someone uses your social security number or other personal information to open new accounts, make purchases, or get a tax refund. You might get a notice from the IRS or find unfamiliar accounts on your credit report. You might notice strange withdrawals from your bank account, get bills that aren’t yours, or get calls about debts that you don’t owe.

How to Prevent Identify Theft

Secure your financial documents and records in a safe place at home and lock your wallet or purse in a safe place at work. Keep your personal information secure from roommates or apartment maintenance staff that comes into your home.

Limit what you carry. When you go out, take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need. Leave your social security card at home. Make a copy and black out all but the last four digits on the copy. Carry the copy with you.

Protecting Your Social Security Number (SSN) and other personal identifying information (PII)

Keep a close hold on your social security number and other PII.  Ask questions before deciding to share any information. Ask if you can use a different kind of identification. If someone asks you to share your SSN or your child’s SSN, ask them why they need it and how it will be used? The decision to share your personal information is your own.

What to Do if You Think You are a Victim of Identify Theft

If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, act quickly. Here are 5 steps you can take to limit the damage:

  1. Call the companies where you know fraud occurred.
  2. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and get copies of your report (for instructions on how to do so click here).
  3. Report identity theft to the
  4. File a report with your local police department.
  5. Most importantly, you should contact your case manager if you need help or clarification.

Please visit for more resources.

Has identity theft or tax fraud every happened to a client of yours? If yes, please write us at to share your experience and how you helped your client resolve the issue.

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Understanding a Paycheck Resource

Understanding Your Paycheck eLearning

Meet Amal, who tells her story to help other refugees thrive in the U.S. workforce.

Looking for a great tool on how to understand a paycheck? Higher has developed the perfect tool for you and your clients. Our eLearning module Understanding Your Paycheck, is available through Higher’s Online Learning Institute.

Here are five reasons to check out this resource, according to your peers:

  1. It takes less than six minutes to complete the course.

“The module is really well developed and covers all the aspects of the paycheck in a very short duration of the time.”  Bidur Dahal, Education Trainer at Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains

2. It’s a great addition to any job readiness class.

“This module was a great tool. I thought it was very user friendly and clear. We will use this in our first job readiness class in April.”  Lauren Brockett, Director of Employment Services at Friends of Refugees – Cafe Clarkston

3. Or maybe to employment orientation.

“It clarifies the paycheck, pay stub and deductions very well. I am really excited about this module and will be very happy to present it to my clients. I will try to make it part of my employment orientation.”  Kawa Hawari, Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota

4. It feels more like a story than a training.

“I thought it was excellent! I definitely see this as a great job readiness workshop resource. We talk to our clients about understanding pay stubs in detail, but I like this module so much because there’s a story to it—it makes it so much more relatable. Looking forward to being able to use this for our clients! ” Tawni Floyd, Employment Manager at World Relief Tri-Cities

5. It covers more than just the basics.

“I just viewed the paycheck module. It is great! It is short, so that will make it easy to show in class with interpreters. I also like the emphasis on respectfully talking to your boss if you think there is a problem with your paycheck. I love these modules.”  Jessica Ploen, Employment Training Specialist at Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska


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Simple Strategies to Address Common Barriers, Part 4

digital literacy 1At a recent Maryland-wide workshop which focused on refugee workforce development, Higher had participants do a brainstorming activity, in which groups worked together to list common barriers refugees face to employment as well as possible solutions.

These types of activities inevitably generate a “wish list” of solutions which are great ideas but not always in our power to implement quickly (e.g. adding staff members, ESL at work sites, home-based self-employment for refugee women).

While there are certainly times to pursue those big ideas, perhaps the best thing about exercises like this is that they allow groups to identify simpler solutions that can be implemented immediately.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll share some of these insights from your Maryland peers, focusing on simple and practical strategies that are relatively easy to implement! So far, we’ve focused on tips for overcoming Limited English Proficiency (LEP) challengestips for overcoming transportation challenges and tips for overcoming childcare challenges. This week we’ll share a few tips on overcoming the barrier of Computer Access/Digital Literacy.

Tips for Overcoming Computer Access/Digital Literacy Challenges:

  1. Connect clients to local computer labs and/or digital literacy training opportunities. Suggested Resource: The Literacy Directory lists free resources to help adult students reach life goals in areas such as improving reading, math, and science skills, learning English, building job and job search skills, becoming a U.S. citizen, and finding adult education, child, family, and digital literacy programs.
  2. Help clients access low-cost computers. Suggested Resource: EveryoneON is a national nonprofit working to eliminate the digital divide by making high-speed, low-cost Internet service and computers, and free digital literacy courses accessible to all unconnected Americans. A true digital literacy initiative, they aim to leverage the democratizing power of the Internet to provide opportunity to all Americans – regardless of age, race, geography, income, or education level. Let’s help them do this!
  3. Educate clients about affordable internet options. Suggested Resource: ConnectHome is a public-private collaboration to narrow the digital divide for families with school-age children who live in HUD-assisted housing. ConnectHome is the next step in President Obama’s continued efforts to bring affordable broadband access, technical training, digital literacy programs, and electronic devices to all Americans.
  4. Utilize interns and/or volunteers to help clients improve their computer skills. Suggested Resource: is a collection of self-directed tutorials for end-users to increase their digital literacy, and a community of practice for digital literacy trainers to share resources, tools and best practices.
  5. Encourage your clients to work with you on this challenge, asking them to network within their community to explore solutions.

Stay tuned for more tips from MD refugee employment programs and stakeholders. The final part in this series will address unrealistic client expectations.

Do you recommend any additional digital literacy resources? Feel free to participate in the conversation by leaving a comment below or sending us an email at

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Tax Season Can Mean Money in Client Pockets

eitc image shrinkFree Translated Resources for Clients and Employers

The majority of refugee families are eligible to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). This can result in significant amounts of money into client budgets and back into the local economy.

Refugees have to know about the opportunity and be connected with qualified, FREE filing assistance in order to benefit.

According to national estimates, 20 to 25 percent of eligible workers do not claim the EITC. This means that millions of workers are missing out on the income boost they’ve earned.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities offers excellent resources to help us promote the opportunity.  Click here to learn everything you need to know to help clients file correctly.

You can order free English/Spanish posters and download client flyers in 24 languages including Amharic, Arabic, Burmese, Chinese, Farsi, French, Haitian Creole, Spanish, Swahili, Spanish and Somali.

Consider supplying key employers with these resources.  It will help our clients and their other employees.  Just one more benefit for employer partners in hiring refugees in partnership with us!



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Free Resource: Urban Institute Net Income Calculator

net income example 0Sometimes, it’s hard to know if a refugee family will really be better off if they add additional income to the mix.  “If a low-income family earns more money, how much will the family’s benefits from safety-net programs go down, how much will state and federal income and payroll taxes change, and how much will the family’s total income go up?”

The Net Income Calculator, a user-friendly tool from The Urban Institute gives you the bottom line and makes a complex calculation relatively simple.

How it Works

You first select the variable you want to test – either wages earned or hours worked.  The tool generates scenarios at a few different intervals for comparison.

To test the tool, Higher plugged in numbers for a family of 5 (children ages 10, 4 and 2) living in Texas.  The husband earns $8.00/hour in a full time job.  The wife has the opportunity to add income from a 20 hour a week job earning minimum wage.  The tool requires estimates of unsubsidized monthly rent and total child care costs.

All calculations related to benefit amounts, tax credits and taxes are built into the model.  All of you definitely have enough knowledge to use the tool accurately and you don’t have to be a math whiz, either.

Information it Delivers
net income example

Amount of new earnings “kept” vs “taxed”

Several charts are generated to show you the net impact on family finances at two different levels.  In our example, the levels are 20 and 40 hours a week of added income from the wife’s potential new job.

net income example 2

Composition of monthly net income for the household

You can see two of the charts delivered for our example at left and below.



This example is consistent with my experience in Austin, TX.  There is less than $100 net increase in family income in adding a parttime job for the wife.  Are there other benefits, including improved English and future work opportunities?  Yes.

Do those outweigh the concerns the family might have about childcare, cultural factors and additional stress?  No matter the support and coaching you provide, the final decision is up to the family.




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Tax Season: Resources and Talking Points


Show this example of a W-2 form to clients so they know what to look for and not throw away.

“…but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin

This post is a collaborative effort by Higher and Erin Voorheis, Employment Specialist with Catholic Charities, Migration & Refugee Services in Arlington, VA.  Read more for Erin’s take on why our clients deserve our help with taxes, some resources and suggested talking points.  Thanks, Erin! 

An Employment Specialist’s Perspective

As April approaches now is the time to explain taxes to our clients.  For my non-accountant-personality this is as much fun as dental work.  But it is necessary. Looking around my home office, I have my tax paperwork out and I’m organizing my family’s documents so that I can get ready to file our taxes on time.  Surely, my clients deserve to have adequate time and understanding to prepare their taxes, (possibly for the first time) as well.

Truthfully, instructing our clients about taxes did not even cross my mind.  April 15th is such a regular occurrence in my calendar that I automatically begin gathering my paperwork, printing off statements, looking for receipts around the end of January, much like I routinely pull out season clothes and pack away clothes from the season past.  I don’t think much about taxes–I just know I need to file them.  One of my clients recently mentioned that we should provide training on taxes.  And we should.  What is routine, (if painstaking) to us, is anything but routine for our clients.

Resources and How Erin Used Them

Here are a few resources I emailed to my clients for explaining our tax system (and one more from Higher):

1. One from How Stuff Works, and one from the IRS (click on the side made for “Students.”)

2. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities offers an excellent toolkit with materials you can use to promote the benefits of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and other income and family-size based benefits that most of our clients can get. Click here.

3.  Also check local governments and workforce centers for free seminars and free tax help (try searching “Volunteer Income Tax Assistance”).  For example, I found this information from Fairfax County, VA.

What to Say to Clients:  Talking Points

For those of you whose client base is not loaded with English speaking SIVs like Erin’s, here are some basic talking points.

  1. We all must pay taxes every year. To do that, we must all submit a form, called a tax return, by April 15 every year.
  2. W-2 forms must be sent to all workers by every source of taxable income by January 21 each year. Be sure clients can identify them and don’t throw them away.  Show clients the image in this post so they know what to look for. 
  3. Tax preparation is free. There are excellent free community tax services that will be sure you get the most money possible in your tax return.
  4. Be careful not to break the law about taxes – even by mistake.  People may offer to pay in order to add children or other family members onto their tax returns. It could jeopardize their citizenship status later.
  5. They will likely get money back. Possibly more than they paid, depending on their eligibility for a number of special tax incentive programs.





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5 Ways to Build a Good Credit History

Credit history…or avoid trashing it before they even understand how important it is.

Typically, when clients are even aware of this topic, they’ve already made mistakes that have established a bad credit history and may no longer be in touch with you or anyone else at your agency.

It’s one of the important aspects of long term economic self-sufficiency that often  ‘falls between the cracks’ in the initial resettlement service period.

Here are five strategies you can share with clients:

1.  Pay rent and utility bills in full and on time.  Not doing so will put you on the fast track to a negative credit history.

2.  Pay off your IOM Travel Loan All 9 Volags collect loan payments from the clients they resettle and report to TransUnion, one of the three major credit bureaus. Bet many of you didn’t know that, right?

3.  Get a pre-paid credit card from your bank.  Make sure they report payment history to a credit bureau.  Not all of them do.   Begin by opening a checking account, establishing a relationship with someone in your branch and managing your account wisely for 3-6 months.

4.  Pay off a big ticket purchase (major appliance, used vehicle) with a vendor loan or layaway plan.  Be sure you can pay it off on time and that they report payment history to a credit bureau.

5.  Avoid amassing a large credit card debt.  It’s much easier to obtain a credit card than to manage out of control debt and large payments.  Losing control with soon put a blemish on your credit history.

(Thanks to my baby brother the banker and Terry Holthouse, LIRS Travel Loans Manager, for contributing their expertise to this post.)

Higher would love to hear from you with tips, resources and approaches to financial literacy.


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MIT Living Wage Calculator

calculatorI’m afraid to recommend using this Living Wage Calculator with clients directly or they will be much less likely to accept the first available job if it pays a non-living wage. 

I also don’t recommend looking too closely at the non-living wage listed for most community and social service jobs. 

So, what can I do with this, you ask? 

  • Check the monthly budget estimates you use when talking to clients or completing mandatory Family Self Sufficiency Forms (an RCA requirement). 
  • Compare the estimated rent payments with the rents in apartments your agency finds for clients as a reality check. 
  • Think about how you can help clients reduce the estimated monthly expenses with access to benefit programs, tips on smart shopping or connections to other social service assistance. 

If you think of other ways it could be helpful, add a comment to this post. 


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Tax Fraud Scam Targeting Refugee Families

tax timeMany of our clients can get significant sums of money back by taking advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit and other programs for large families.  Read more in a previous Higher post.

Recently, we have heard of a scam you should try to help your clients avoid becoming caught up in.

Some families have been convinced to  “sell” the use of their children to list on other people’s taxes so that those scammers can claim tax credits for themselves.  It is far better financially for the families to claim their own children on their own tax returns.

More importantly, if this tax fraud is discovered, the refugee family will be barred for life from ever benefitting from child-related tax credits again.  Depending on the details, a criminal conviction could have serious, permanent consequences for their paths to citizenship, as well.

Please spread the word and add this to the information you provide to clients related to understanding and complying with laws related to taxation.


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Tax Season is Here!

tax timeTax preparation can be stressful and confusing for many people and we have all heard stories of refugees not getting their full tax benefits.  Some may not know the system very well yet and others may rely on a local tax preparer who may take advantage of their situation.  We want to help employed refugees get the most

For Matching Grant clients, the guidelines include specific language about an important tax benefit – the Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC).  The EIC can be a really important tool in helping clients understand the advantages to early employment.  There are some great outreach tools available to  help you in these efforts on the Earned Income Credit website.

Outreach flyers are available in 21 languages.  There’s also an EIC Estimator to more quickly calculate the potential value of the Earned Income Credit for an individual or family.  Plus fact sheets, FAQs, printable materials and videos.  Everything you need to get the word out to your clients.  Use these tools to get the word out quickly!

Also, the Internal Revenue Service supports free tax preparation sites around the country through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.  Some local resettlement offices have become VITA sites themselves.  If you would like more information on how to do this, you can look here on the IRS website or contact us to get connected with a local resettlement office with VITA designation.

You can also check out this google map to find sites in your area.

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