Filing your taxes can be a stressful process. Gathering all of the necessary documents, filling out forms, and making sure you have everything in order can be a hassle. On top of all that, there is always the fear of making a mistake or being audited. But for some taxpayers, the stress can be even greater if their tax return gets hijacked. Tax preparer fraud and identity theft are serious issues that can leave victims feeling violated and helpless. Here’s what you need to know about how to protect yourself and recover from these crimes.
Tax Preparer Fraud
When you hire a tax preparer, you trust them with sensitive information about your finances. Unfortunately, not all preparers are trustworthy. In some cases, preparers may commit fraud by altering your tax return to increase their fee or by stealing your refund. This can leave you in a difficult position, as you are ultimately responsible for the accuracy of your tax return, even if it was prepared by someone else.
To protect yourself from tax preparer fraud, it’s important to do your research and choose a preparer wisely. Look for a preparer who has a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and is registered with the IRS. You can check a preparer’s credentials using the IRS’s Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers. Additionally, you should ask for references and look for online reviews to see what other clients have to say about their experiences.
Once you’ve chosen a preparer, make sure to review your tax return carefully before signing and filing it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something or if something seems off. If your preparer insists on claiming deductions or credits that you don’t qualify for or refuses to give you a copy of your return, these may be red flags that you should find a new preparer.
If you do become a victim of tax preparer fraud, you should take action right away. Contact the IRS and report the fraud using Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. You may also want to consider hiring an attorney to help you pursue legal action against the preparer.
Identity theft is another serious threat to taxpayers. Scammers may use your personal information, such as your Social Security number or date of birth, to file a fraudulent tax return and claim a refund in your name. This can leave you with a delayed or reduced refund, as well as the headache of dealing with the fallout from identity theft.
To protect yourself from identity theft, it’s important to keep your personal information secure. Don’t give out your Social Security number or other sensitive information unless it’s absolutely necessary. When you do provide this information, make sure it’s to a reputable source and that you’re taking appropriate security precautions, such as using a secure website or calling a verified phone number.
You should also keep an eye out for signs of identity theft. If you receive a notice from the IRS stating that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or if you receive a W-2 or 1099 form from an employer you don’t recognize, these may be red flags that your identity has been stolen. You should also check your credit report regularly to make sure there are no unauthorized accounts or transactions.
If you do become a victim of identity theft, there are steps you can take to recover. First, contact the IRS and report the identity theft using Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. You should also file a police report and contact the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to place a fraud alert on your credit report. This can help prevent further damage to your credit score and make it more difficult for scammers to open new accounts in your name.
The Take Away
Tax returns can be hijacked through preparer fraud, where a tax preparer intentionally submits false or misleading information on your tax return, or through identity theft, where someone obtains your personal information and files a tax return in your name.
To protect yourself from preparer fraud, carefully vet any tax preparers you are considering working with and consider working with a certified public accountant or other licensed tax professional.
To protect yourself from identity theft, safeguard your personal information by using strong passwords and other security measures and consider enrolling in an identity theft protection service.
If you suspect that your tax return has been hijacked, report the fraud to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and consider obtaining a copy of your credit report to monitor for any unauthorized activity.