Tax season is here, and as you gather and receive information to prepare to file, the Florida Office of Financial Regulation warns that scammers are ramping up as well.
To avoid becoming a victim of criminals who file fraudulent tax returns using stolen identities, remain vigilant and file as early as possible, the OFR advises.
The IRS will begin accepting returns Jan. 23, and individual returns are due by April 18.
Many thieves see tax refunds as an easy target because they only require a name, Social Security Number and date of birth to file. Anyone who holds a Social Security Number may be at risk. Still, there are some simple, effective steps to reduce your risk of becoming a victim.
Here’s the OFR’s advice on how to reduce your risk:
Filing your taxes early in the season. Fraudsters typically file false returns as early as possible so that the IRS receives the false return before the legitimate one. Your risk for identity theft drastically decreases when you collect and file your information early.
Using a secure internet connection, if you file your taxes online. Also use an electronic device that you trust.
Taking your tax return directly to the post office if you plan to send it through the mail. Leaving your return in your mailbox can be risky and make you more vulnerable to identity thieves.
Doing your research before handing over your personal information to a tax preparer. Make certain that you are using someone credible and trustworthy.
Being wary of IRS phone and email scams. The IRS will never contact you by phone or email if they need information. Never provide personal information over the phone to a so called “IRS agent.”
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation is warning Floridians of the danger of hiring unlicensed certified public accountants to assist with their personal and business financial needs. In Florida, CPAs are required to have a professional license.
“With tax season upon us, Floridians and businesses across the state are hiring CPAs to prepare their financial documents,” DBPR Secretary Ken Lawson said. “While there are many other accountants and tax professionals who are able to assist with a variety of financial needs, only CPAs are licensed by the state to perform specific services. It’s important to be aware of the benefits of hiring licensed CPAs and to be informed on how to verify a CPA license with the state.”
In order to provide advanced financial, business and tax services to their clients, licensed CPAs must have successfully passed the Uniform CPA Examination and are required to meet strict professional and technical requirements mandated by Florida law. They are licensed to perform audits, reviews and compilations, as well as express opinions of financial statements that provide a level of assurance regarding the reliability or fairness of the financial information at hand.
Before a licensed CPA is hired, consumers should always verify the individual’s State of Florida professional license with DBPR. Licenses can be verified by visiting www.myfloridalicense.com, calling (850) 487-1395 or downloading the free DBPR Mobile app available in the iTunes and Google Play app stores.
Floridians are asked to report any suspected unlicensed activity to DBPR by emailing ULA@myfloridalicense.com or calling the Unlicensed Activity Hotline at 1 (866) 532-1440.