The tax man cometh

Published 9:25 pm Saturday, February 28, 2015

It’s that time of year, when the April 15 deadline looms just over the horizon, and taxpayers across the United States are scrambling to get their paperwork in order.

For do-it-yourselfers and those who opt to get outside help with their taxes, the North Carolina Department of Justice has some words of warning, and a few helpful hints, to keep taxpayers and their earned cash safe from scammers, refund thieves and more.

Primary among them is this advice: guard personal information. If someone gets ahold of a social security number, they can do all sorts of financial damage, and they can, potentially, collect that SSN holder’s tax refund. The advice from the NCDOJ: don’t email a social security number or other confidential information to a tax preparer. Email accounts can be hacked — call it in, instead. If filing online, make sure the site has security encryption displayed by the lock icon in the address bar.

Everyone can use a little help with their taxes, but scammers can often appear to offer help, then make off with the cash. They can also call, email or text, pretending to be IRS agents and demand payment. A good thing to remember is that the IRS will never contact a taxpayer by phone, email or text. The IRS only makes contact through the mail.

Beware the rapid refund. According to the NCDOJ, some banks and tax preparers offer a paid service and what’s called a rapid refund, but by the time they take all their fees out, there may not be a lot of that refund left. A better option would be to file taxes electronically, and do it early, which means there only will be about a three-week wait for that return.

Tax refund theft is another thing to watch out for: criminals will file a return in someone else’s name, hoping to get the paperwork in first and collect the refund. One way to avoid this — and likely the IRS’ preferred method — is to go ahead and pay taxes early and beat would-be tax return thieves to the punch. If a taxpayer gets a notice that more than one tax return was file under that name, it’s time to contact the IRS immediately.

There’s good tax help out there for those looking for it: taxpayers who make less than $58,000 a year can use the IRS’ free tax preparation software, at For those willing to use a paid preparer, check their credentials and experience by calling 877-5-NO-SCAM toll free within North Carolina or contacting the local Better Business Bureau to check for complaints against that tax preparer.