I am always concerned about information security and encryption is an important part of that. It’s tax season, and I’m crazy busy but I have been following recent developments between the FBI and Apple Computer with interest. I haven’t been following closely enough to create my own response to the topic, but I recently read Mark Cuban’s response and I think he’s got the right idea.
The latest is an e-mail that pretend to be from the Social Security Administration. This article provides more information about the scam, how to protect yourself, and where to report phishing e-mails. I tell clients all the time that the scammers are getting increasingly sophisticated and the e-mails are looking increasingly authentic. To protect yourself, never (NEVER!) click a link that is in an e-mail. Use your internet browser to browse to the appropriate website (ssa.gov, irs.gov, etc.) and then use the keyword search or the menus on the website if you want to verify or update your information.
- Tax clients at both offices can now pay for their returns using debit or credit cards.
- Tax clients now have the option to access a secure file portal for uploading and downloading documents.
- Insurance clients can use the links on the insurance page to make online payments to their policy providers.
- We have a new newsletter that will be e-mailed once a month. The newsletter will contain information about income tax and insurance issues as well as more general tips for money management and personal and small business financial issues. Click here and scroll down to opt-in to the mailing list. We won’t sell or otherwise distribute your information and you may unsubscribe at any time.
Friends and clients, Amber here, in the interests of keeping prices under control and my sanity marginally intact, I put my phones on do not disturb in the morning during my most productive hours and in the afternoons/evenings when I have clients in the office. You are welcome to call my cell (if you have the number) on the weekends and after hours, but I don’t answer/return calls from home after hours or on Sunday. Same thing for texts and e-mails. I handle business during my business hours which are, in any case, greatly extended this time of year. Your usual response time will be less than 24 hours. Thanks for understanding.
In an earlier post I discussed the various types of paid tax professionals and at the end I mentioned that, at an absolute minimum, your preparer needs to hold a valid preparer tax identification number (or PTIN). Ghost preparers are paid preparers who do not hold PTINs. They are often (but not always) small, independent, tax season only preparers using software meant for their own return preparation (such as TurboTax) to illegally prepare returns for other individuals for pay.
The main difference between a true ghost preparer and, let’s say, your aunt who files your return using her copy of TurboTax and you slip her $50 bucks for her help is that ghost preparers hold themselves out as actual tax professionals, often to family and friends, but often to others as well.
The problem with ghost preparers (and for that matter your aunt) is that they have absolutely no accountability to the IRS or to you, the taxpayer, for their work. They do not have to comply (or even pay attention to) safeguarding your personal information from disclosure or theft. They do not have to abide by any ethics rules. And they do not have to help you if you receive a notice from the IRS for an audit or any other issue that pertains to your tax return. Their responsibility ends once your return is filed whether correctly or incorrectly or, worse still, fraudulently.
So how do you avoid using a ghost preparer to prepare your income tax return? Before you give the preparer any information make sure s/he has a PTIN. If the preparer doesn’t know what you’re talking about run, don’t walk, to another preparer. The IRS Return Preparer Office has a searchable PTIN directory that you can use, but it does not include those who do not have not obtained any professional credentials or qualifications (EA, CPA, Attorney, Annual Filing Season Program Record of Completion for the current year). If you’re still unsure, check out this article by The TaxGirl (Kelly Phillips Erb).
Think you’ve seen a ghost preparer? The easiest way to tell is to look at the signature area of your tax return. Under the signature block there is an area that says “Paid Preparer Use Only”. That block should have your preparer’s name, contact information, and PTIN in it. If it says “self prepared” your preparer is a ghost preparer. Remember, if your return preparer used your return to commit fraud his or her name isn’t anywhere on the return. You effectively own that fraud.
So please, be careful when choosing a tax preparer. Of all the options available you should be able to find one who both meets your needs with respect to the level of complexity of your return and your price requirements. Remember you are entrusting this individual with your identity and most if not all of the details of your financial life (and many of the details of your personal life). It’s too important a decision to make quickly or based on price alone.