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The U.S. tax season is now underway, as the Internal Revenue Service has begun accepting and processing 2020 tax year returns. And the IRS’s Criminal Investigation Division reminds taxpayers to file accurate tax returns and choose a tax preparer wisely.

U.S. persons are subject to tax on worldwide income from all sources. Most taxpayers meet this obligation by reporting all taxable income and paying taxes according to the law, according to a news release. 

However, those who willfully hide income should know that the IRS works across its divisions to ensure the highest possible tax compliance, the release says. Taxpayers found to be committing fraud may be subject to penalties, including payment of taxes owed plus interest, fines and jail time.

“It is the duty of all of us to file a timely and true tax return,” Brian Payne, Special Agent in Charge of the Tampa Field Office, reminds taxpayers in the release. “It is the solemn duty of IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agents to defend the vast majority who file honestly by investigating those who do not. We will continue to maintain an equitable tax system by recommending prosecution against those who cheat the U.S. tax system.”

Tax-return preparers are vital to the U.S. tax system, as approximately 55 percent of taxpayers use a paid preparer, the IRS says. Although most preparers provide honest and professional services, there are a small number of dishonest preparers who set up shop during filing season to steal their clients’ money or personal and financial information.

“We at the IRS recognize that the annual effort to prepare and file an accurate tax return can cause some taxpayers a fair amount of anxiety,” Payne says. “Don’t compound your fears by falling victim to a dishonest return preparer. [. . .] The IRS Criminal Investigation Tampa Field Office is committed to protecting Florida taxpayers from unscrupulous tax preparers.”

The IRS says taxpayers can avoid falling victim to unscrupulous preparers by following important steps:

  • Look for a preparer who is available year-round in case questions arise after the filing season.

  • Ask if the preparer has an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), which is required for paid preparers.

  • Inquire about the preparer’s credentials, and check their qualifications at irs.treasury.gov/rpo/rpo.jsf.

  • Avoid preparers who base fees on a percentage of their client’s refund or claim to offer a bigger refund than their competition. Be leery of preparers who offer to take their payment from your refund.

  • Refunds should go directly to the taxpayer, not the preparer.

  • Never sign a blank or incomplete return. Fully review the return before signing. Even if you use a preparer, you are ultimately responsible for your tax return.

  • If a preparer suggests a tax strategy that sounds questionable, remember the old adage: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Taxpayers who suspect tax violations by a person or business may report it to the IRS using “Form 3949A, Information Referral.”

For more tips on choosing a tax professional or to file a complaint against one, visit IRS.gov.

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