Attorney General Josh SteinAll North Carolinians know that April brings springtime, the NCAA National Championship—and tax time. But you may not realize that April also brings out crooks who set up tax scams designed to steal your money and personal information.As Attorney General, my top priority is to protect the people of North Carolina. A central part of that is protecting your hard-earned money from criminals. When tax scammers target honest people, I use the state’s full enforcement powers to shut them down.In addition to shutting these criminals down, I want to prevent their crimes from succeeding in the first place.Here are a few tips to help you protect yourself this tax season.
First and foremost, guard your personal information
. Identity thieves can use your Social Security number to take out loans, open credit cards or even collect your tax refund. Remember, email is vulnerable to hackers, so avoid emailing your Social Security number or other confidential information to a tax preparer or accountant. If you’re using a website to file your taxes, make sure your information is secure by looking for the lock icon on the address bar.
Second, beware of scammers posing as the IRS
and demanding tax payments over the phone
. If you get a call from someone claiming to work with a government agency, chances are he or she is a crook. Unless you have received written communication from the IRS that outlines your tax debt, the IRS is unlikely to call you to collect. Ask them for the caller’s name and identification number. Then, hang up, look up the agency’s telephone number and call the agency directly to confirm the information. Also if anyone demands you make immediate payments using gift cards, money orders, or wire transfers, hang up the phone.
Third, watch out for tax refund thieves who file returns in your name and collect your money
If you receive a notice or letter from the IRS indicating that more than one tax return was filed in your name, respond immediately to the IRS employee whose contact information was provided.
Finally, make sure to
with your taxes
. If you make $58,000 or less annually, you can use free tax preparation software through the IRS. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is also available at all branch locations of the State Employees’ Credit Union and the Local Government Federal Credit Union. It is free for families earning less than $52,000, and $75 for families who make more.If you’re considering using a paid tax preparer, make sure to check their credentials and experience. Call my office toll-free at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM to see if there are any complaints filed against the preparer. Read any contracts or other paperwork carefully before you sign and be sure to find out the total cost before you give your approval. Also, always review your return carefully before you file it. Some dishonest preparers deliberately falsify returns—often by claiming fake credits such as an education credit or child care credit—which leads to an inflated refund. When the error is discovered by the IRS, you are usually required to repay a portion of the refund, sometimes with additional interest and penalties.Rest assured that I will go after anyone who tries to defraud honest North Carolinians out of their hard-earned money. However, by understanding the risks and taking preventative action, you have the power to help protect yourself. Together, we will keep your wallet safe this tax season.