April 15 is coming up quickly – have you had your taxes done? Each year, we hold our breath for our accountant to give us our results – do we owe money or are we getting a refund? If you are looking for an accountant, how do you know that you’re hiring the right person? How do you know that you’re not getting scammed? How do you know that the person that you trust with your most sensitive information will not steal from you, personally or financially?
There are many common scams that happen at tax time. Some include preying on the elderly or college students by impersonating tax authorities, soliciting follow up information on a tax form, and collecting identification numbers and social security information, which is then used to steal their money and/or identities. Other known scams have used technology to “spoof” people and make their phone numbers appear like they are from the IRS on caller ID.
There are a few things to look out for at tax time. Ever see those ads that say that they will do your tax return for an extremely low fee? Be careful, because once they get you in the door, they may increase the final fee by hundreds of dollars, claiming the tax return was more complicated than they anticipated. There have also been dishonest tax preparers who electronically withdraw more than the agreed upon fee without notice to the customer.
As taxpayers look for help in filing their taxes, Attorney General Schneiderman issued the following tips for consumers:
- Use recognizable and established companies to complete your tax returns;
- Check the tax preparer’s qualifications;
- Check the tax preparer’s history through the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org);
- Ask for a written estimate of all fees;
- Avoid preparers who base their fees on a percentage of your refund;
- Make sure the tax preparer is accessible, even after the April due date;
- Never sign a blank tax return;
- Review the entire tax return before signing and ask any questions (no question is a dumb question);
- Make sure the preparer signs the tax form and includes a valid Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN);
- Avoid “too good to be true” promises;
- Consult New York’s “Consumer Bill of Rights Regarding Tax Preparers”
The Attorney General is also reminding New Yorkers that there are Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites where consumers can get their tax returns prepared free of charge. Additionally, if your income is $57,000 or less, you may qualify for FreeFile and can use free tax preparation and free e-filing software.
Some additional websites with helpful information include:
If you feel that you have been the victim of tax fraud or a tax preparation scam, contact the Attorney General’s office by calling 800.771.7755.