It’s that time of the year again, so West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is reminding consumers to be cautious and to protect personal information when preparing and filing their federal and state income taxes, particularly since some tax preparers offer remote/online assistance.
The federal and West Virginia tax filing deadline this year is April 18.
If opting for a remote or virtual transaction, make sure you’re dealing with a legitimate tax preparation service. Also, make sure the tax preparer uses a secure portal to receive sensitive information involving income, Social Security numbers, finances, birth dates, addresses and other items scammers could steal.
“Tax season is in full swing and so are scammers who are busy trying to steal your personal information,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “That’s why it’s imperative for consumers to be mindful of how they handle tax information and who processes tax-related documents on their behalf. Make sure you work with the right person or business. Research their reputation, qualifications, and be on guard for any phony or dishonest preparer who would jeopardize your personal information.”
Consumers can greatly reduce the risk of fraud by filing their return well before the April 18 deadline. This gives thieves less time to file a false return since Internal Revenue Service records would show a filed return in the consumer’s name. Consumers also should use a secure internet connection, and never file their return via publicly available WiFi.
Consumers should ask for the Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and check the IRS list found at https://irs.treasury.gov/rpo/rpo.jsf.
Legitimate tax preparers will ask for records and receipts. Additionally, they will never ask a client to sign a blank tax return. If they suggest as much, it should raise an immediate red flag.
Consumers should also ensure their tax preparer signs and includes his or her IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number. Federal law requires paid tax preparers to take both steps.
Other tips to consider if hiring a tax preparer:
–Research tax preparers online and/or seek a trusted friend’s recommendation.
–Make sure the tax preparer offers e-file. Anyone who prepares and files more than 10 returns for clients generally must do so electronically.
–Make sure the tax preparer will be available after filing the return should any questions arise about the filed tax return.
Taxpayers who file through traditional mail should use caution and consider taking the mail to a local post office—tax identity thieves have been known to steal tax documents from mailboxes.
Consumers who believe they may be the victim of tax-related identity theft should contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Office at 800-368-8808, or file a complaint online at www.ago.wv.gov.