By Kevin Edwards
BC Staff Writer
It is now tax filing season and Americans are receiving their tax documents in the mail and preparing their returns for the IRS.
Where there is money to be found there are often those looking to steal it and it is important to protect your personal information from scam artists.
Hunter Keane is the executive director of Impact America in Memphis that operates several volunteer IRS-certified free tax preparation sites.
Keane said his organization is familiar with several methods taxpayers can be victimized by scams.
“People will either call or email or even send you a letter in the mail impersonating the IRS saying that they either need your personal information or that you need to make a payment to them,” Keane said. “A lot of times, they’ll want you to either deposit money electronically or mail it to an address that is not an official IRS office. Don’t fall for those.”
The IRS most often uses certified mail as their initial way of contacting you.
“The IRS will make it pretty clear that they are the IRS when they are contacting you,” Keane said. “They leave very little room for doubt.”
Keane said that paid preparers “can vary a lot” when it comes to quality and ethics and it is necessary to keep some common-sense tips in mind.
Above all else, don’t allow copies of your Social Security card or any of your important documents to be made.
“I can’t imagine for any reason they would need a copy of a Social Security card,” Keane said. “I would never consent to that.
“If they say we’re going to keep a copy of your Social Security card in case we need to make adjustments, there are no adjustments that will need to be made in terms of a Social Security card.”
If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, do not share any personal information. Call the IRS back to see if there is an issue.
The IRS also does not make calls demanding payments in the form prepaid cards or gift cards.
The IRS does not threaten the use of law enforcement in a situation of unpaid taxes. Any payment the IRS requires will be to the U.S. Treasury only.
Keane also recommends being aware when working with a paid preparer of any quality.
“Try and keep as much awareness about where your information is going, how it’s being recorded, and then take back all your documents (and) make sure that nothing there is retained that they don’t absolutely need.”
Keane has worked with the consequences of taxpayers who have fallen victim to scams, providing examples of the preparers manipulating the return and pocketing extra cash or diverting the taxpayer’s entire refund into a personal bank account.
If a taxpayer signs and submits a return that has been manipulated, the IRS will come after the taxpayer, not the preparer who committed the fraud, which can leave to a lot of stress and heartache.
“You go back to the paid preparer (for help) and that shop is closed,” Keane said. “They’ve moved on.”
Keane said while taxes may be complicated, the best way to avoid scams is to educate yourself on the basics and to protect your personal information.
The official IRS website has several resources on combating scams and educating yourself to protect your identity and tax information.
Qualified Entergy Mississippi customers may receive free tax preparation and have a chance to win money at Entergy’s Super Tax Day event held Saturday at North Bolivar Consolidated High School in Shelby from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Customers who agree to save part of their total refund at the Super Tax Day event will have an opportunity to win up to $50 in cash through a scratch off card promotion and will be entered in other drawings including a $10,000 grand prize from the national Save Your Refund program.
Customers unable to attend Super Tax Day can still receive free tax preparation services at one of many Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites in Mississippi through April 15.
At the VITA sites, IRS-certified volunteers from Entergy Mississippi and their partners will also help determine if the taxpayers are eligible to claim federal Earned Income Tax Credits.
“Services provided through Super Tax Day and the VITA program help power lives for our customers, who can gain long-term benefits by claiming EITC,” said Amy Davidson, Entergy Mississippi senior customer service specialist. “By putting our customers’ hard-earned money back in their pockets, we are helping improve customers’ lives and investing in a brighter future for our communities.”
Free tax preparation services are provided at VITA sites throughout the 2020 tax season.
In some VITA locations, local community partners are offering appointments for tax preparation services, drop-off tax prep services, financial coaching, budget workshops, free legal services and more. For more information on Entergy’s Super Tax Day and VITA, visit entergy.com/freetaxhelp.