As has been reported in this space previously, early tax filing can help ward off identity theft scammers who are trying to beat you to the punch with the IRS. Unfortunately, many Americans cannot file early and that leaves them more vulnerable to the various schemes hatched by the unscrupulous. Your Better Business Bureau has learned of one scam in particular that some have fallen for during this tax season – the “Tax-Reprieve Package Federal Relief Program” e-mail scam.
Here is how this scam operates: You receive an e-mail claiming to notify you of potential tax relief through the above-mentioned “federal program.” The e-mail invites you to click on a link in order to “See the amount of Tax-Relief you will receive.” (This is a good time to remember that grammatical mistakes like the overuse of capital letters in “Tax-Relief” are a huge red flag that something is not right.)
Clicking on the link could download spyware onto your computer that will steal your personal information. Do not click on the link. Delete the e-mail. The IRS never uses e-mail, social media contact or text messages to reach taxpayers about requests for personal or financial information. It is a good policy to never click on a link from a source that you do not recognize.
Choosing a tax preparer
There are plenty of honest, highly competent tax preparers out there. There also are plenty of the other sorts. The BBB gets numerous complaints each year from Americans who feel they were ripped off by dishonest preparers. The IRS has issued guidelines for selecting a tax preparer that can be useful as you go through that selection process. As April 15 looms ahead, try to take the time to let caution instead of panic be your guide. Here are 10 tips to help you:
• Check qualifications. By law they must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number. Ask to see it. Also ask if they are in a professional organization and attend continuing education classes. The IRS is phasing in new minimal competency requirements.
• Check history with the BBB. Check their status with applicable state boards for CPAs; bar associations for attorneys; IRS Office of Enrollment for enrolled agents.
• Service fees. Don’t use preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund, or who claim to get you larger refunds than others. Be sure your refund will be deposited into your account. Never allow it to go directly into a preparer’s account.
• Electronic filing. Any preparer who files for more than 10 clients must file electronically unless the client opts for paper filing. The IRS e-file process is safe and secure.
• Be sure they will stick around. In case future questions arise, be sure the preparer can be reached.
• Show all your records and receipts to the preparer. If they are only willing to take your word for it, there may be a serious problem. W-2s must be provided, not just check stubs.
• Don’t sign a blank return. This is a huge red flag if you are requested to do so.
• Review the completed return before signing. Understand the forms or ask the preparer to explain them before signing.
• The preparer must sign the form and include their PTIN. Nevertheless, the accuracy of the return is your responsibility. You must be given a copy.
• Report abusive preparers to the IRS. Go to www.irs.gov for Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. You may order by mail at 800-TAX-Form (800-829-2676).
Contact the BBB to report problems or to ask questions at 800-856-2417, or visit our website at www.kansasplains.bbb.org.