Unfortunately, identity theft is not the only thing to watch out for when enlisting the help of a tax preparer or tax software to file your taxes. BBB receives thousands of complaints from consumers against tax preparers every year.
In 2016, BBB received nearly 3,000 complaints against tax preparation businesses nationwide.
Common complaints state that the tax preparer made errors in their return which resulted in fines and fees. Other complaints allege customer service, billing and contract issues.
BBB offers the following advice when searching for a tax preparer:
* Look for credentials. Ideally, your tax preparer should either be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney or an enrolled agent. All three can represent you before the IRS in all matters, including an audit.
* Don’t fall for the promise of a big refund. Be wary of any tax preparation service promising larger refunds than the competition. Avoid any tax preparer who bases their fee on a percentage of the refund.
* Think about accessibility. Many tax preparation services only set up shop for the months leading up to the April 15 deadline. In case the IRS finds errors, or in case of an audit, make sure you are able to contact you tax preparer at any time of the year.
* Read the contract carefully. Read tax preparation 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.
* Ask around. Ask family, friends or co-workers for recommendations on filing your taxes, whether it’s through a CPA, tax preparation business or online tax service that allows you to file your own taxes. To find a BBB Accredited tax preparation business near you, go to bbb.org.
Tax season is also a busy time for identity thieves. Tax identity theft occurs when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund, or a job.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), tax identity thieves get your personal information in a number of ways, including: going through your trash or mailbox; through emails asking for information, which appear to come from the IRS; employees at hospitals, nursing homes, banks and other businesses stealing data; and phony or dishonest tax preparers misusing confidential information or passing it along to identity thieves.
To lessen the chances of becoming a victim of tax identity theft, the FTC has the following advice, whether you choose to file your return yourself or use a tax preparer:
* File your tax return early. And do it before identity thieves have a chance to steal your information. Also, make sure your address is up-to-date so your W-2 doesn’t get lost in the mail or end up in the wrong hands.
* Use a secure Internet connection. If you file your return electronically, don’t use unsecure, publicly available 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 copies and electronic files in a secure location.
* Check your credit report. To ensure your identity hasn’t been stolen or compromised, go to annualcreditreport.com to get your free credit report.