Tax season is well underway and while the deadline to submit returns is extended to April 18th this year, instead of the traditional April 15th, taxpayers who are seeking assistance in completing forms should begin their search for a trustworthy and qualified tax preparer.
Your Better Business Bureau is encouraging taxpayers to properly research professional tax preparers or accountants before hiring, to help avoid mistakes, scams and even tax identity theft.
"More than 3,000 tax collection schemes were reported to BBB Scam Tracker last year, along with 1,500 complaints processed by BBBs regarding the tax industry," said Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. "With the sensitive information involved in handling taxes, taxpayers should properly vet individuals and businesses offering any type of tax assistance, and BBB can help.
BBB offers the following tips on choosing a trustworthy tax preparer:
- Verify credentials. Ideally, your tax preparer should be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney or an enrolled agent. Make sure they have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN).
- Research the company. Search the company on bbb.org to find a BBB Business Review containing a BBB rating and three-year complaint history. Investigate whether the preparer has any questionable history with the PA Board of Accountancy (for CPA's), the State Bar Association (for attorneys) or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for enrolled agents.
- Don't fall for the lure of a big refund. Be wary of a tax prep service promising larger refunds than the competition. Avoid companies who base fees on a percentage of the refund.
- Know how to contact your tax preparer year-round. Many tax shops set up services for the months leading up to the deadline. In case there is an issue with your filing, make sure you can contact the professional who prepared the forms.
- Read the contract carefully. Read the service contracts closely to ensure you understand issues such as how much it is going to cost for the service, how the cost will be affected if preparation is more complicated and time consuming than expected and whether the tax preparer will represent you in the case of an audit. A paid preparer is required by law to sign your return and must give you a copy of your tax return.
BBB tips on avoiding tax scams:
- File early. The sooner you file your taxes, the better to help avoid identity theft.
- File online. The IRS says filing online and choosing direct deposit for any refund remains the fastest and safest way to file. Make sure you're entering your information on a website that is secure and encrypted. Con artists create imposter sites around this time of year to trick you into entering your personal information, which could lead to identity theft.
- Use a trustworthy business. Find tax professionals and accountants using BBB's Accredited Business Directory.
- Know the IRS will not call demanding money. If there is an issue with your taxes, the IRS will first contact you by mail. Any phone calls, emails or text messages you receive from someone representing the IRS or Dept. of Treasury and advising you of a tax debt, is likely a scam. Scam attempts can be reported to BBB Scam Tracker.
For more tax tips for businesses and consumers and links to popular IRS resources, visit BBB's Tax Tips website.