By Attorney General Roy Cooper
The tax deadline is looming and you may find yourself needing help to file your taxes. Using a tax preparer should make filing your taxes easier, but only if you choose one that is reliable and accurate.
There are plenty of legitimate tax preparers in North Carolinians, but unfortunately my office hears from consumers each year about tax preparers who charge unreasonably high fees, file tax documents without approval, or fail to complete the job.
Complaints against tax preparers are on the rise so far this tax season. One consumer reported that a tax preparer demanded more than the quoted price once her refund check arrived at their office, and even followed her to the bank, waited for her to cash the refund check, and pressured her into paying additional money on the spot.
The IRS has also reported an uptick in tax-related email scams. These fraudulent emails appear to come from government agencies and tax preparers and try to trick you into replying with your personal and financial information, which can lead to identity theft.
Don’t share your personal financial information with anyone you don’t know who contacts you, no matter who they claim to be. And be careful when selecting a tax preparer, since he or she will have access to your information.
To find trustworthy help preparing your taxes:
- Look for credentials. Certified public accountants, tax attorneys and enrolled agents with up to date credentials are good sources for reliable help at tax time. Some consumers are also eligible for free tax preparation from the IRS through their Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs.
- Do your research. Check out a tax preparer’s background to see if they’ve had any complaints filed against them by calling my office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina or through the Better Business Bureau.
- Stick to tax preparers who work year round. If possible, avoid tax preparers or businesses that only operate seasonally.
- Beware of promises of a bigger refund. Avoid tax preparation services that promise larger refunds than the competition. Instead, stick to tax preparers whose fees aren’t based on a percentage of your refund.
- Read your contract. Before you enter into a written agreement with a tax preparation service, be sure to find out the total cost and read the contract or other paperwork carefully before you sign it.
- Look out for red flags. Beware if a tax preparer asks you to sign a blank tax form, or if they refuse to sign the form they prepared. Avoid any preparer who won’t provide you with copies of your prepared tax forms or won’t allow you to review them for accuracy.
- Review your tax return for errors. Some tax preparers try to inflate refunds using deductions and credits that their clients aren’t eligible to receive. This could leave you on the hook for paying back the improper part of the refund plus fines and interest. Before your preparer files your return, check any deductions and tax credits the tax preparer claims for you thoroughly. If anything seems off, ask the preparer about it and check with the IRS yourself if you still have questions.
- E-file carefully. Filing your taxes electronically can be convenient, but it is not without risks. If you’re filing your taxes online, make sure the website is secure by looking for an “https” in the web address and a lock icon near the search bar.
- Guard against tax ID theft and IRS scams. Identity thieves can use your Social Security Number to take out loans, open credit cards or even collect your tax refund. Avoid anyone who calls or emails you and offers to help with your taxes or claims to be with the IRS. Remember that real IRS representatives won’t call, email or text to demand unpaid taxes or fines.
- If you have questions, ask. Contact the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 or the North Carolina Department of Revenue at 1-877-252-4052 for information.
Attorney General Roy Cooper and his staff are on the lookout for scams that seek to rob unsuspecting North Carolinians. We are here to be of service when you need us, but through consumer education efforts like these columns we hope to help consumers avoid problems from the start.
Note to editors: this is one in a series of columns that the Attorney General is distributing to educate consumers. If you have questions please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.