Over the next few weeks, W-2 forms will show up at your work desk or in your mail, and the IRS will begin accepting tax returns on Jan. 27. Hiring the wrong tax preparer can result in headaches, fines and fees. The Better Business Bureau reminds consumers to be on the lookout for tax scammers and to confirm a tax preparer’s qualifications before trusting them with personal information.
Remember that scammers and identity thieves are busy during tax season as well, so it’s important to make wise decisions when having your tax returns prepared.
The BBB offers the following advice when searching for a tax preparer:
— Ask for referrals. Get referrals from friends and family, but also check the preparer out by going to bbb.org or by calling 903-581-5704 before you hire anyone.
— Check credentials. Is the preparer a certified public accountant, a tax lawyer or an enrolled agent? Will the preparer sign your return and provide you with a copy? Does the preparer belong to a professional organization that requires members to adhere to a code of ethics?
— Don’t fall for the promise of big refunds. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and steer clear of tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund. Request an estimate and discuss the price before making an agreement. The cost of the service should be determined by the complexity of the return.
— Check accessibility. You may need to contact your preparer after tax season is over. Will he or she be available? How can you contact them?
— Read the contract: Know what the service will cost, what it covers and whether the cost changes if you have a complicated return. Will the preparer represent you in case of an audit?
— Check your return: Before you sign the return, read it over to check for mistakes. Ask the preparer to explain anything you don’t understand.
To reduce the chances of becoming a victim of tax identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission has the following advice:
— File early. Take enough time to find a trustworthy tax preparer, but do it before identity thieves have a chance to steal your information.
— Use a secure Internet connection. If you file your return electronically, stay away from Wi-Fi hotspots.
— Shred documents. This includes copies of your tax return, drafts or calculation sheets you no longer need. The IRS recommends that most people keep three years’ worth of tax returns in case of an audit. Keep hard copy and electronic files in a secure location.
— Check your credit report. To ensure your identity hasn’t been stolen or compromised, go to annualcred itreport.com to receive your free credit report.
For more information on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, please use BBB Scam Tracker or call the BBB Hotline: 903-581-8373.