It’s National Consumer Protection Week (Feb. 4-10) and the Better Business Bureau is joining with other national organizations and government agencies to encourage consumers to “Read Up, Reach Out and Be an Informed Consumer!”
This is particularly important as the tax filing deadline approaches. The BBB predicts that scam artists will try to take advantage of people’s confusion over newly-enacted tax breaks that went into effect after the 2007 tax filing forms were printed. Reaching out to the BBB, the IRS and other trustworthy organizations for credible information will help consumers to recognize tax scams, resist being defrauded and make educated tax-related decisions.
Consumers who plan to use a tax preparer this year, for instance, should start the selection process now. If not, they may wind up victimized by a less-than-reputable tax preparer. Remember, you are ultimately responsible for everything on your tax return, even if someone else prepared it.
Most tax professionals are qualified and honest people. The BBB offers these tips for finding a reputable tax preparer:
- Get referrals from satisfied clients.
- Interview the potential preparer. Ask about their training, experience and knowledge of current tax law. Are they a member of a professional organization with continuing education requirements and a code of ethics? Are they willing to guarantee the accuracy of their work and amend the return if there is a mistake?
- How long they have been in business? You’ll want someone who will still be around to answer questions that may arise later on.
- Contact the BBB (www.bbb.org) to determine if the preparer is one you can trust.
- Get an estimate for their fee prior to authorizing the work.
Steer clear of tax preparers who sound too good to be true. Beware if they:
- Boast that they can obtain larger refunds than competitors;
- Don’t ask to review your records and receipts or discuss your qualifications for expenses and deductions;
- Base their fee on a percentage of the refund amount, rather than the complexity of the tax return; or
- Pressure you to sign up for immediate payment of your refund. This involves a loan that typically carries a high interest rate.
The IRS advises that tax preparers are acting illegally if they encourage you to claim inflated personal or business expenses, false deductions, or excessive exemptions; manipulate your income to obtain fraudulent tax credits; ask you to sign a blank or incomplete form; or guarantee that you will not be audited. Check that your preparer has signed your tax return, and get a copy and a payment receipt for your records.
Review your prepared return carefully before signing, and get clarification on entries that you don’t understand. Heed the call of National Consumer Protection Week and “Read Up and Reach Out!” whenever you have doubts about a marketplace issue. The BBB is only a phone call or a mouse click (www.bbb.org) away!