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Gephardt: How To Avoid Getting Defrauded This Tax Season

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — We all have a little more time to file our taxes, now that the IRS has pushed back the tax filing deadline from April 15th to July 15th. But the agency cautioned that if you are going to hire someone to do your taxes, be sure you are dealing with a tax preparer that is legitimate.

“You are the one ultimately responsible for the figures that end up on that tax return,” warned Casey Hill, spokesman for the IRS.

That holds true even if your preparer goofs up or commits fraud.

Hill strongly recommended asking questions before choosing a preparer.

“How long have you been doing this job? How long have you been in business? How long have you been at this location?” said Hill. “You want to think about, are they going to be around to represent you in the future if for some reason, something was to go wrong.”

Susan Speirs has been a CPA for nearly 30 years and now leads the Utah Association of Certified Public Accountants. Her first advice: make sure the preparer has a Preparer Tax Identification Number, or P-TIN.

“If you are doing tax returns for compensation, you are required to have a P-TIN,” Speirs said.

Anyone can get a P-TIN now. There is no requirement to be a licensed tax professional to get one.

“I think that’s part of the challenge that we’re seeing with some of this tax fraud that is going on is anyone can do that,” said Speirs.

She explained the necessity of choosing a preparer who is either a CPA, an enrolled agent, or a tax attorney.

“We can with the IRS, before the IRS,” Speirs said. “Meaning that if you get a letter or you are going to be audited, we can represent you.”

Speirs advised steering clear of anyone who promises an instant refund. The IRS does not work that way. She also said be wary of anyone promising an unbelievably big return.

“If your tax preparer wants you to sign a blank tax form – run. If your tax preparer says just pay me X percentage of your refund – huge, red flag. That is illegal,” she said.

Remember: if your tax preparer fraudulently changes numbers to boost your refund, you are 100% responsible.

If you need help filing taxes, there is another option. The IRS has partnered with ten tax prep companies including H&R Block, Intuit and TaxAct to offer its Free File program for people who made less than $69,000 last year.

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