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Tips for finding help, avoiding identity theft during tax season

Better Business Bureau offers tips and resources for filing your taxes

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Tax season is once again upon us and the Better Business Bureau is offering tips on how to avoid tax identity theft and find help.

The BBB says it can be tempting to rush out and do your taxes to get your refund sooner, but it advises using caution throughout the process.  

According to the BBB, tax scams, both IRS and CPA, topped the list of the top 10 scams of 2015.

The BBB receives thousands of complaints from consumers against tax preparers every year, and has seen a rise in complaints over the last three years.

The most common complaints reported by the BBB are tax preparer errors in returns which resulted in fines and fees. Billing and contract issues are other common complaints.

The BBB encourages taxpayers to take time and use caution when selecting a tax preparer. Here is some advice from the BBB 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:

Beware 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 April 18. In case the IRS finds errors, or in case of an audit, make sure you are able to contact your 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:

Find BBB Accredited tax preparation businesses in your local area. There are over 300 BBB Accredited tax preparation businesses serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin.

Check out bbb.org to find a BBB Accredited tax preparation business near you.

Tax season also busy for identity thieves 

Tax season is also a busy one for identity thieves, who can use your Social Security number to get your tax refund or even a job.

Identity thieves get your personal information in a number of ways including going through your trash or mailbox, emails and personal documents.

Dishonest tax preparers can also give confidential information or pass it along to identity thieves.

To lessen the chances of becoming a victim of tax identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission has the following advice, whether you choose to file your return yourself or use a qualified tax preparer:   

File your tax return early: 

Do it before identity thieves have a chance to steal your information. 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 hardcopy 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. For more information and resources for filing your taxes, go to BBB’s Tax Resource Center.

You can also follow the BBB on watchyourbuck.com, Facebook and Twitter.

To check out a company and find trustworthy businesses, visit bbb.org.

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