It’s a common story that we see far too often. Seasonal tax preparers looking to take advantage of taxpayers with promises of big refunds and overblown tax credits. Those most frequently targeted are the elderly, low-income taxpayers, non-English speakers, or some who may not have a filing requirement. They commonly advertise with word-of-mouth (boasting big referral dollars), flyers, and even small community events.
The most important thing to remember is that while these scammers may face legal recourse as well, the taxpayer is legally responsible for what is filed in their name, even if it’s prepared by someone else. This can come as a shock to some victims who are penalized due to a falsified return.
How to avoid being a victim of these scammers
- Check their credentials. Whether they are a CPA, EA, or even an attorney, there are online records through the IRS and many state associations detailing the information of reputable, trustworthy preparers.
- Review your return. Tax preparers who are honest do not keep the return private from the client. It’s standard practice among reputable CPA firms to supply a copy of the return to the client and walk them through their return. If your preparer does not allow you to review what has been filed in your name, it may be a red flag.
- Make sure the refund is deposited into your account. Some scammers direct your refund to be deposited into their personal or business account and then deduct their “fee” before paying the victim of their fraud. Don’t let this happen to you. Make sure your refund is directly deposited into your account to not be charged outrageous fees by these scammers.
- Do your research. Ask your friends, family, do online searching, whatever is needed to find a local, reputable tax preparer. Ask questions at your initial consultation about their background, local history, and filing processes. Don’t be shy about interviewing your prospective preparer, as they will obtain very sensitive financial information from you and should be properly vetted.