Editorial: Avoid fraud, make tax filing easier
It's the season for filing taxes and so, unfortunately, also the time for tax fraud.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is reporting an increase in the number of consumer calls about fraudulent filings and state residents working with a tax preparation service are reminded to reach out to DATCP if they believe there are questionable practices taking place at the business.
Consumers are filing their tax returns, only to be told by the Internal Revenue Service a return has already been filed in their name, according to Sandy Chalmers, division administrator of DATCP. Anyone who believes they're the victim of identity theft or suspecting someone filed the complainant's taxes without their authorization should let the DATCP know. Complaints can be filed online through the website http://datcp.wi.gov or a complaint form can be requested by calling 800-422-7128.
Here are some tips to avoid becoming the victim of tax preparation fraud:
--Be alert to promotions such as "quick cash loans" that can be used to gain the personal financial information needed to file an individual's tax return.
--Check the tax preparer's qualifications and history. Ask questions and get references from other clients, if possible.
--Find out about service fees. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund or those who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers. Also, always make sure any refund due is sent to the consumer or deposited into an account in the consumer's name. Under no circumstances should all or part of a refund be directly deposited into a preparer's bank account.
--Make sure the tax preparer is accessible. Make sure, too, the tax preparer will be able to be contacted after the return has been filed, even after the April due date, in case questions arise.
--Never sign a blank tax form.
--Never sign an authorization permitting a company to file the signer's taxes if not wanting the company to do so.
--Never sign a document without first reading it and understanding what it says.
--Always insist upon receiving copies of all documents which are required to be signed or those identifying the terms of a transaction and the charges which are required to be paid. Confirm, before signing, the copies will be received. If a business doesn't agree to provide copies, don't sign.
To make tax filing easier, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) is urging taxpayers to try electronically filing their income tax returns this tax season. The following five tips are intended to help in filing income tax returns:
--Try e-filing. E-filing is more secure and faster than filing on paper--and alleviates worries about returns getting lost in the mail. The DOR offers a free e-file program called Wisconsin e-file, which is available 24/7 at revenue.wi.gov. Confirmation is provided the return has been received. Refunds can be directly deposited into taxpayers' accounts. Wisconsin fill-in tax forms do the math based on the information put on each line, which helps to prevent errors as the return is prepared.
--Use direct deposit or pay online. Have a refund deposited directly into a savings or checking account. Also, make tax payments online using the free, secure Pay Online option on the DOR's website. There's no need to register and payments can be scheduled on or before April 15. An application to pay online is available at tap.revenue.wi.gov/pay.
--Explore the many useful resources on the DOR's website. The site at
has information and self-service options to help with filing income tax returns. Find links to forms and instructions, as well as informational videos on tax topics. Check on refunds by clicking on "Look Up: Refund" on the "Individuals" tab. Also, find information about the new Wisconsin Revenue mobile app, available in Apple and Android app stores.
--Use local tax filing help. Free tax assistance is available by calling 211 to find a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or Tax Counseling for the Elderly site in the area. The individuals who help prepare a tax return at these sites are trained volunteers and can help answer questions or e-file returns.
--File by April 15. The deadline to file tax returns is Monday, April 15, so don't delay!