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In tax season, watch out for scams and shady characters

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Across the nation, it’s tax season - time to take a look at W-2’s, bank statements, and all the other aspects of your financial life. It’s also a time when trustworthiness is especially important.

New York Western District U.S. Attorney William Hochul, Jr. said one of the best defenses against problems at tax time is going to a legitimate tax preparer. He said citizens should be able to trust such professionals, but should also be on the lookout for a particular warning sign.

“If what the tax preparer charges is contingent on how much refund they can get you, that should be a major red flag and, perhaps, a motivation for the tax preparer to amp up a little bit legitimate deductions,” said Hochul.

That’s not the only scam Hochul is urging residents to watch out for. He said one of the more common scams every year is for would-be criminals to use someone else’s ID to file tax returns and receive the refunds. The past couple of years have seen a rise in over-the-phone swindles.

“Cases where people outside the area, sometimes from outside the country, call the particular person, threaten that they are from the tax agencies – they’re IRS or state agencies – and demand immediate payment of money over some sort of pre-paid credit card or wiring the money. Otherwise they’re going to call and have you arrested,” Hochul said.

Hochul reminded residents that agencies like the Internal Revenue Service and their state counterparts will never call to demand money or information. Even though doing business and paying bills by phone and over the internet is common place for many companies, Hochul said many government agencies still rely on standard mail.

“Now of course you can file your income taxes over the computer system,” noted Hochul. “Many people file electronically and get their refunds electronically. But when it comes to some sort of disputed matter, which is what the fraudsters will be playing upon everyone’s fear, they will not contact you over the telephone.”

New Yorkers are the second most victimized residents of all 50 states, exceeded only by California.

“So we are on the target list of fraudsters,” said Hochul. “I think they know Western New Yorkers, in particular, are very hard working. They have good identities, good reputations, and that’s exactly what the thieves and criminals are going to try and steal.”

For most residents of the United States, tax season and the process of filing returns is common-place. But immigrants unfamiliar with the process can be even more vulnerable to scams and should be on guard.

“Because number one, they don’t know how the system works,” said Hochul. “Number two, they may have some fear which is residual from their old experiences where government officials may in fact do just that, may threaten, may coerce.”

For those planning to process tax returns on their own, Hochul has an additional warning.

“Don’t give yourself deductions and expenses that aren’t supported, because the last thing I was to see anybody is in federal court being charged with some kind of income tax evasion crime.”

Hochul said if you’re taking care of taxes yourself, just follow the instructions from the IRS.

2016 IRS tax filings are due on Monday, April 18.

Avery began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey for WRUB, the University at Buffalo’s student-run radio station.