IRS issues warning as tax season begins

CPA offers tips on how to stay safe from scammers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With tax season arriving, people may be planning to hire someone to prepare their returns for you. The IRS urges you to be cautious when hiring a preparer, because some have scammed victims out of refunds or even stolen their identities.

About 60 percent of filers use tax preparers. There are things to watch out for to know you're safe.

Jim Hathaway said he's been hit twice over the years.

"Like in your corporation, you can get a false piece of information in the mail, and if you don't read the fine print, which is about as big as a frog's hair, you can get duped by it, and I was duped two years in a row. I did get my money back," Hathaway said.

Younger taxpayers like Lataria Shoemaker are unsure how to stay safe.

"The precaution's definitely not to give more information to the people that you don't think would be trustworthy. You don't want to give your (Social Security number) out or anything," she said.

News4Jax spoke to Marshall Gunn, a local certified public accountant. He said there are numerous things you can do to stay safe.

  • Make sure your preparer has a PTIN, or preparer's tax identification number. That's given out by the IRS to people who are qualified to prepare taxes.
  • Check to see if they have any credentials, such as being a CPA, an attorney or is an enrolled agent, certified to represent you to the IRS.
  • Avoid any preparer who charges you based on the amount of your return.

"How do they generate their fee? Do they have a flat fee based on the form they file? Do they charge (an) hourly rate? If they say it depends on your refund, hang up your phone, or if you're in their office, turn around and run away. That's a bad sign," Gunn said.

Gunn also said most national companies like H&R Block or Liberty are usually trustworthy. But he said the bogus preparers sometimes do illegal things to inflate a return so they can get more money from you.

"Unfortunately, they may slip things in on your return that are not exactly honest so your refund is bigger. They get the big fat fee and then when the IRS audits the tax return, it's, 'Oh, my goodness, these are disallowed.' You can't go back and say, 'I want a refund because my refund got declined by the IRS,'" Gunn said.

It's also important to ask whether your preparer up to speed on the Affordable Care Act, because that is affecting a lot of returns.

If you think you've been scammed, there are two forms that you can fill out and send to the IRS: Forms 14157 and 14157-A.

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