You haven't kissed 2020 goodbye until you've filed your 2020 income tax return — and, 2020 being what it was, you may need extra help. If you did some freelance work or received unemployment benefits, or if you're eligible for additional stimulus funds, you may decide it's worthwhile to pay a tax preparer to help you file your return this year. But you also need to be particularly careful when choosing that tax preparer. “This is an extraordinary year for fraud,” says Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center.
Tax scams have always been an issue, and they are an even bigger concern this year, because so many people have changes to their financial situations and because scam artists have been taking advantage of extra government benefits. It may also be more difficult to do the usual vetting if you aren't meeting the professional in person due to concerns about COVID-19.
The information you give a tax preparer can be a treasure trove for ID thieves, so you need to do your research before deciding who to work with. “This is some of the most personal information that there is, such as your Social Security number, which unlocks the key to your identity and to so many other things,” says Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy for the Consumer Federation of America. Not only could a scam tax preparer steal your refund, but he or she could also use your personal information to get government benefits or loans in your name.