TDCI Offers Consumers Tips to Avoid Tax Return Preparer Fraud

Tuesday, April 04, 2017 | 08:36am

NASHVILLE – With the April 18th Tax Day deadline on the horizon, the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance’s (TDCI) Division of Consumer Affairs encourages residents to thoroughly  vet your tax preparer to help reduce the risk of fraud.

“Conducting research should be your first priority if you decide to have a tax preparer file your income tax return,” said TDCI Consumer Protection Director Cynthia Wiel. “You are responsible for everything on your return, even when someone else prepares it, so be sure to check your preparer’s history and qualifications carefully before hiring.”

Tax return preparer fraud or misconduct can happen to anyone, even if you hire a preparer who you believe is professional and honest. For example, a preparer might change your tax return after you’ve approved and signed it, altering income or credits to obtain a bigger refund and then keeping some or all of it.

In some cases, the preparer might steal your whole refund by changing direct deposit information. Another common fraud situation can occur when the preparer files a return without your authorization – he or she might have your information from a prior year, and use that information to file a return for the current year. Or perhaps you met with a preparer and then chose not to hire that person, but the preparer filed a return using your information anyway.

The Division of Consumer Affairs urges Tennesseans to do research before trusting anyone with important tax information:

Check the Preparer’s Qualifications

  • Make sure the preparer has a PTIN (Preparer Tax Identification Number) – this is required for all professional preparers.
  • Find out if the preparer is affiliated with any professional associations. 
  • Ask the preparer about his or her education and training – what background does that person have that qualifies him or her to prepare your return?

Check the Preparer’s History

  • Check with the Better Business Bureau in your area to see if the preparer has had complaints filed about him or her.
  • Check with professional associations to see if the preparer has had any disciplinary actions, and for the status of the preparer’s license:
    • For Certified Public Accountants (CPAs):
      If the preparer is a CPA, verify his or her license with the Tennessee Board of Accountancy at For more information about the Tennessee Board of Accountancy, visit or call 888-453-6150.  
    • For attorneys:
      Verify an attorney is licensed to practice law in Tennessee by visiting the Board of Professional Responsibility’s website directory at
    • For Enrolled Agents:
      Verify the status of an enrolled agent by contacting the IRS Office of Enrollment at 855-472-5540 or

Ask About Charges and Fees

  • Avoid preparers who base their fee on the amount of your refund.
  • Try to obtain a clear estimate, preferably in writing, for the preparation and filing services.

Find Out What Services the Preparer Offers

  • Does the preparer offer electronic filing?
  • Will the preparer be available after April 15 if you have questions or problems? Consider whether the preparer will be around to answer questions about your return months or years after it is filed.

Ask Around

Do you know anyone who has used this preparer? Were they satisfied with the service? If not, why not?


Protect Yourself

  • Always get a complete copy of your tax return. Verify that the preparer signed it and included a PTIN.
  • Avoid any preparer who asks you to sign a blank return or requires the refund to be direct-deposited to a bank account under the preparer’s control.

Note: Be careful when a preparer claims he or she can get you a larger refund than other preparers. Remember, even if your preparer handles everything involved in completing your tax return, you are still responsible for its accuracy.

For more consumer tips, visit To learn more about tax return preparation, visit