CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Tax season is here, and the Internal Revenue Service says more than 150 million individual returns are expected to be filed this year.
Many will turn to either computer software or a professional tax preparer for help with filing their returns. According to the Better Business Bureau, there are some keys to finding a trustworthy tax preparer.
Typical scams seen this time of year include:
- Phishing: Taxpayers should be alert to potential fake emails or phone calls looking to steal personal information. The IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email about a bill or tax refund. Phone scammers will threaten arrest if you do not pay immediately. These are nothing more than scams to steal personal information.
- Return preparer fraud: Most tax professionals provide honest, quality service. But be alert for dishonest preparers who operate each filing season to scam clients resulting in refund fraud, identity theft and other scams that hurt taxpayers.
- Inflated refund claims: Taxpayers should take note of anyone promising inflated tax refunds. Those preparers who ask clients to sign a blank return, promise a big refund before looking at taxpayer records or charge fees based on a percentage of the refund are probably up to no good.
When it comes to finding a tax preparer you can trust, do the following:
- Research before you hire. Start by asking friends and family for recommendations or check BBB Business Reviews at www.bbb.org. Then interview the preparer, either by telephone or by dropping by for an office visit. A tax preparer must obtain a PTIN (Preparer Tax Identification Number) from the IRS.
- Interview your preparer. Ask qualifying questions. What tax preparation training and experience does the preparer have? Do they specialize in a specific area? How many people will be collecting my information or seeing my data? Can they represent you in case of an audit? What is the turnaround expectation?
- Discuss the costs upfront. The fees should be based on the complexity of the return, and never on the size of the tax savings or refund. A tax preparer should never guarantee a refund before completing a return. Some preparers offer immediate payment of returns, for a fee. Keep in mind that this is a loan. If you accept the offer, be certain that you read the fine print.
- Be honest with your preparer. A preparer will not necessarily ask to see all of your documents or request proof of the figures you give. Although a tax preparer could be subject to a penalty, he or she is not held responsible for processing false information. Be sure to claim all the deductions for which you are eligible but be honest. Remember, it is your name on the IRS file. The penalty for filing false information to the IRS is severe. Keep a file containing a copy of your return and relevant documents for at least three years after the filing date.
For more information, visit www.irs.gov for all tax-related questions.
To research a tax preparer you are considering, go to www.bbb.org/tax-us.