By Joseph Spector
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman offered tips today on how to avoid tax-preparation scams in advance of the April 15 income-tax filing deadline.
Schneiderman encouraged New Yorkers to notify his office of any suspected fraudulent activity by tax preparers.
"Taking advantage of innocent people in this tough economy is shameful and will not be tolerated by my office," Schneiderman said in a statement.
Schneiderman said his office investigates complaints from consumers about tax-preparation schemes, particularly those who prey on the elderly or college students.
In some complaints, consumers said that businesses advertise low fees, but then increase the fees when the tax returns are completed, claiming they were more complicated than originally believed.
Consumers who feel they've been victims of any tax preparation scams are urged to file complaints by visiting the office's website or calling 1-800-771-7755.
Schneiderman said there are volunteer income tax assistance sites where consumers can get their tax returns prepared free of charge.
For more information about how to qualify, visit: www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=107626,00.html.
Consumers whose income is $57,000 or less may qualify for FreeFile and can use free tax preparation and free e-filing software.
Information on free e-filing is available at: www.tax.ny.gov/pit/efile/freefile.htm.
Schneiderman offered these tips:
• Use recognizable and established companies;
• Check the tax preparer's qualifications;
• Check the tax preparer's history through the Better Business Bureau;
• Check for disciplinary actions and verify licenses;
• Find out about disclosed and undisclosed service fees;
• Avoid those who base their fees on a percentage of your refund;
• Make sure the tax preparer is accessible, even after the April due date;
• Never sign a blank return;
• Review entire return before signing;
• Make sure the preparer signs the tax form and includes a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN);
• Check out free informational services from your local government and online;
• Avoid "too good to be true" promises;
• Consult New York's "Consumer Bill of Rights Regarding Tax Preparers."