The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

March 30, 2013

Tax time: Filers warned to be aware of scams

JOHNSTOWN — Income tax season can be a demanding time for some people and a pleasant time for those anticipating a refund.

But it also can be a time when unsuspecting residents can get duped by unscrupulous tax preparers with claims that are too good to be true.

“Shopping for a tax return preparer is like shopping for any type of service in that there’s a certain amount of caveat emptor, or let the buyer beware, that applies,” said Jennifer Jenkins, a spokeswoman for the Internal Revenue Service in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

“Make sure the person you choose to trust with your sensitive personal and financial information is a true tax professional, not a con artist.

“The hookup to a friend of a friend who knows a secret way to guarantee you a big refund should be a big red flag.”

Dennis Kotzan, who founded Kotzan CPA and Associates, PC of Richland Township in 1991, said that tax preparation is a professional service and should not be viewed as a commodity marketed in a frivolous way to catch someone’s attention.

The tax preparer should be a qualified individual such as a certified public accountant or a person either enrolled with the IRS or registered with the IRS to complete tax forms, he said.

“The preparer shouldn’t refuse to sign your return as the preparer,” he said.

“The preparer should be available year-round for audit support, general questions and tax planning.

“The preparer should offer tax-savings plans and not suggest deductions be inflated as a means of obtaining a larger refund.

“The taxpayer is ultimately responsible for the accuracy of their return. Fraudulent-deduction patterns can easily be tracked by the IRS via the preparer’s identification number.”

Jenkins said that people should never sign a blank return and should always review the information on the return with the person who prepared it so they know that the return is correct.

“If you’ve paid someone else to prepare your return, insist that he or she has included his or her preparer tax identification number on it, so that the IRS knows that you were not alone in preparing your return,” Jenkins said.

“Keep in mind that by disclosing your personal and financial information to a tax con, you open yourself to the risk of identity theft and other troubles.”

If someone is unscrupulous enough to file a fraudulent return for you, it’s unlikely that that person will not try to use your information to fleece more money from you down the road by tapping into your bank account or accessing your credit card information, she said.

Another scam that residents should be aware of is called phishing. The deception involves an unsolicited email or a fake website that seems to be legitimate but lures victims into providing personal and financial information, according to an IRS pamphlet on tax scams.

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