Tips for Trusting Your Tax Preparer

Most people get help filing their taxes, either from computer software or a professional tax preparer. Scams have some consumers concerned about who they can trust with their financial data and private information.

A paid tax return preparer is primarily responsible for the overall, substantive accuracy of your tax return(s). If there is a problem with your return or you are audited by the IRS, the tax preparer can help you address the issue and can often represent you. The preparer is required to sign your tax forms (paper or electronic) and provide their preparer tax identification number (PTIN), a number assigned by the IRS.

Better Business Bureau advises taxpayers to be extra cautious when choosing a tax preparer, since that person or company will have access to your personally identifiable information (PII). Here are some BBB tips to help you find a tax preparer you can trust.

Get Referrals. To find a tax preparer, start by asking friends and family for recommendations, then check BBB Business Reviews at bbb.org. Look beyond the letter grade; complaint details and Customer Reviews will tell you about others’ experiences.

Make sure they are properly registered. A tax preparer must obtain a PTIN from the IRS. Never let someone work on your taxes unless they have this number. Don’t be afraid to ask about this or other qualifications; a capable professional does not mind questions.

Look for credentials. Anyone with a PTIN can prepare your tax forms for you, but some tax preparers have more training and qualifications than others. Enrolled agents, certified public accountants (CPAs) and attorneys have unlimited rights to represent their clients to the IRS on all matters. Other preparers can help you with forms and simple IRS matters, but are limited otherwise, and they can’t help you if they didn’t prepare your form. Learn more about tax preparer credentials on the IRS website.

Keep a watchful eye for promises. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and avoid tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund. Also be wary of “refund anticipation loans,” which can take a hefty chunk of your refund in commission. Refunds are processed quickly these days, so it’s a better bet to just wait for the real thing rather than pay a premium to get it now.

Search for free tax programs. There are several free government programs that prepare taxes free of charge if you meet an income requirement; go to the IRS’s Free File page for more information. Check with your state government to find out about their program (search “file tax free” and your state’s name in a search engine, and look for .gov websites).

Tax Software and Apps. If you plan to file yourself, use tax software or an app that provides both excellent data security and good customer service. Some of the top names in tax prep software are BBB Accredited Businesses, so check with bbb.org first.

Newman at cash register

Finding an Agent to Match Your Real Estate Needs

Denver’s beautiful sunshine is back and it’s the perfect time to begin looking for a house. With the market as crazy as it is with houses being bought, in all-cash, the same day it is put on the market, one way to ease the stress of finding a new house (or selling yours) is to find the right real estate agent.

BBB recommends buyers interview several candidates before choosing one to help in their search for a new home. Ask friends and family for references, then check each real estate agent’s BBB Business Review to see his or her history of complaints, BBB rating and more. Ensure each agent is properly licensed.

During the interview process, ask the agent for recommendations from previous clients. Ask how many home buyers the agent has assisted in the last year and the average price of the home purchased. If you’re looking for a bargain, ask about his or her experience with short sales and foreclosures.
In addition, buyers should have a list of needs and wants to discuss with each agent during this process. Discuss your total budget, including down payment, closing costs and other fees, as well as how much you can afford for a monthly payment. If possible, get pre-approved for a mortgage so you have hard numbers to work with.

Be wary of agents who make big promises while asking for little. It’s unlikely they will be able to deliver.

Money out of car

Why Would You Overpay? Oh, it’s a Scam

The “overpayment” scam is back and it doesn’t discriminate…this affects consumers, businesses and also nonprofits.

This classic scam has been around for a while. A scammer sends a check or PayPal wire to you, but then says that they “overpaid.” They then ask you to re-send or re-wire the overpayment to another account, usually giving them access to your bank information and more. From there, the scammers can take all of your money, not just the amount you “sent back.”

BBB offers the following advice to avoid an overpayment scam:

  • Know who you’re dealing with. In any transaction, confirm the buyer/seller/donor name, street address and telephone number.
  • Don’t wire. Never under any circumstances wire funds back to the person, a legitimate buyer/seller/donor will not insist upon this type of request.
  • Never assume that a check is legitimate, even if it’s a cashier’s check. It may take weeks for a financial institution to learn that it is counterfeit.
  • Never accept payment for more than the purchase price of a product or service.
  • Keep in mind, you are the party who is ultimately liable to your financial institution. Verify all checks, as well as certified checks, with the issuing financial institution.

BBB urges any consumer, business or nonprofit that receives such emails not to respond or engage in any way. If you receive a check, do not deposit it and report your experience to your BBB.

 

Love is in the Air for Scammers, Too

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and that means the chocolate, cards, flowers, diamonds are all on sale right now. Scammers realize this too…so before you run off to the store to purchase a diamond that’s somehow 50% off or the flowers online that look gorgeous for only $20, do some research.

In 2015, the BBB reports that consumers spent nearly $19 billion dollars on gifts for their loved ones for Valentine’s Day, primarily flowers, and the number one complaint has to do with quality of the delivery of flowers.

The closer you get to the holiday, the lower the fresh inventory is going to be for flowers. Every year, the BBB receives complaints from consumers that the flowers they purchased were DOA (dead on arrival), or the arrangement never arrived. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) even has a name for unscrupulous online florists – petal pushers. What a great pun, right?

What should you do instead? Research a local flower shop and go there. Not only are you supporting your community by purchasing from a local merchant, but you will also be able to create your own arrangement and know that the flowers are quality.
It is pretty difficult to be scammed by chocolate, but again, buy at your local grocery or a local candy shop, you can even taste-test before you buy sometimes while you’re there!

Diamonds and jewelry are very popular around this time—it is the season for love and we are actually in the middle of proposal season as well. Do your homework on those jewelry stores before purchasing. No one likes to pay thousands of dollars on a fake diamond!

Check us out on KDVR-Fox31 Denver for more tips to stay safe:

Big Eats for the Big Game

The big day is almost here.  The one where all your friends and family gather around to watch football and eat until your heart’s content.

If you are tired of the same old buffalo chicken dip and pizza, Adrian, our Business Development Operations Manger and resident chef has some great and easy ideas to spice up your spread.

Bacon Wrapped BBQ & Pineapple Jalapeno Poppers

Here’s what you will need:

10 jalapeno peppers

  • Slice peppers lengthwise then remove and discard sees and core. Do not do this with your bare hands – use a paring knife and latex gloves.

1  8oz package of cream cheese – at room temperature

1 20oz can crushed pineapple

1 16oz package bacon  – NOT thick cut (center cut works best)

BBQ sauce

Brown sugar

Light corn syrup

Here’s what you’ll do:

Open can of pineapple and drain most of the liquid.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and add 1 teaspoon of light corn syrup. Stir and let sit for about 10 min.

Pour pineapple into a mesh strainer and drain thoroughly: the drier the pineapple the better.

Using a hand mixer, beat cream cheese till mostly smooth and add drained pineapple mix to combine.

Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly spray with cooking spray.  Begin filling the peppers with the cream cheese mixture (not too full as the mixture will “puff up” a little while baking), and place them on the baking sheet.

One all the peppers are filled, take one slice of bacon per pepper and wrap the filled pepper.  Place back on the baking sheet.

Bake at 380 degrees for about 45 minutes.  Brush or drizzle with BBQ sauce, and bake for another 10-15minutes or until done.  (You can save yourself some mess by putting the BBQ sauce in a Ziploc sandwich bag, seal it shut, snip off corner and use this to pipe the BBQ sauce over the peppers!)

The Big Game Chex Mix

3 cups Corn Chex® cereal

3 cups Rice Chex® cereal

3 cups Wheat Chex® cereal

2 cup honey mustard flavor small pretzel twists, pieces or nuggets

1 cup smoked almonds

4 tablespoons butter or margarine

3 tablespoon yellow mustard or hot & spicy mustard

2 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoon seasoned salt

  • Heat oven to 275 degrees.
  • In a medium sized Aluminum Baking tin, mix cereals, pretzels and almonds.
  • In small sauce pan on med – melt butter, then add mustard, honey, and seasoned salt. Stir and bring to a slow boil.
  • Pour sauce over the cereal mixture and stir till well mixed.
  • Bake uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Cool completely (giving it a little stir every 5 minutes or so).
  • Store in airtight container

Big Game Eats

OUR Center Named BBB’s Nonprofit of the Month for February

BBB serving Denver/Boulder is pleased to congratulate Outreach United Resource (OUR) Center for being named the February Nonprofit of the Month. OUR Center was founded in 1986 and grew out of the Longmont Ministerial Association when church leaders agreed that uniting community resources would give better help to those who needed it.  The OUR Center works closely with many other agencies in the community to assist those in need, especially those in emergency situations. In 2014, the OUR Center served 120,696 meals and distributed 934,700 pounds of emergency groceries to 16,392 households.

OUR Center has been a BBB Accredited Charity since 2004, meeting all 20 Standards for Charity Accountability. OUR Center won the BBB Torch Award for Marketplace Trust in the nonprofit category in 2012.

BBB Serving Denver/Boulder charity review program was developed to help donors make informed giving decisions and to promote high standards of conduct among organizations that solicit contributions from the public. BBB reviews 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations using the BBB Standards or Charity Accountability. These standards go beyond the requirements of local, state, and federal laws and regulations and cover four areas:

  • Governance and Oversight
  • Measuring Effectiveness
  • Finances
  • Fund Raising and Informational Materials

“The OUR Center is truly a community-based agency which aligns perfectly with the mission and vision of BBB. Not only does the OUR Center help provide people with clothing and food, but with shelters, child care, transportation, job assistance and more. The OUR Center is a wonderful example of how an organization can impact thousands of people’s lives through community passion, dedication and faith; we are proud to be able to honor them,” says Adriana Carmona, BBB Denver/Boulder Nonprofit Program Director

For more information on OUR Center, visit http://ourcenter.org or call 303.772.5529. OUR Center is located at 303 Atwood Street, Longmont, CO 80501.

You Overpaid, but I get Scammed?

The “overpayment” scam is back and it targets everyone–consumers,  businesses and also nonprofits.

This classic scam has been around for a while. A scammer sends a check or PayPal wire to you, but then says that they “overpaid.” They then ask you to re-send or re-wire the overpayment to another account, usually giving them access to your bank information and more. From there, the scammers can take all of your money, not just the amount you “sent back.” And the original checks turn out to be worthless.

BBB offers the following advice to avoid an overpayment scam:

  • Know who you’re dealing with. In any transaction, confirm the buyer/seller/donor name, street address and telephone number.
  • Don’t wire. Never under any circumstances wire funds back to the person, a legitimate buyer/seller/donor will not insist upon this type of request.
  • Never assume that a check is legitimate, even if it’s a cashier’s check. It may take weeks for a financial institution to learn that it is counterfeit.
  • Never accept payment for more than the purchase price of a product or service.
  • Keep in mind, you are the party who is ultimately liable to your financial institution. Verify all checks, as well as certified checks, with the issuing financial institution.

Seinfeld Money

Top Ways of How Scammers Get to You

BBB has put together a comprehensive list of the top ways scammers contact consumers. All data was comprised from the new free, online tool Scam Tracker that BBB launched a few months ago.

The Top 5 sound all too familiar…the most used avenues in which we always warn consumers to be safe around when giving out personal information.

Phone—56%

  • Details: Calls soliciting personal information…your friend is trapped in a foreign country, money needed to deliver a package to your house, IRS tax scam—authorities coming to your house unless you pay, people posing as law enforcement, charities or other businesses.
  • What to Do: Take the phone number down and hang up, do not give any money or personal information. Call your phone provider and get put on a no-call list.

Email—15%

  • Details: Fake shipping notifications or “You Won a New Car!” a fake medical bill, etc…
  • What to Do: Unsubscribe and report as spam

Website—7%

  • Details: Popups and cookies in your browser
  • What to Do: Empty your cookies, block sites and popups, computer security settings

Facebook—3%

  • Details: Too good to be true scams, these are popular items, such as weight loss products, clothing, cruises, etc. Will usually say that one of your friends passed it along to you…
  • What to Do: Notify Facebook, unfollow or ask the social media engine to hide such posts from your Timeline.

Text Message—3%

  • Details: Not really a big one, but sometimes scammers will get reach of your cell number and text you…
  • What to Do: Again, you can block this number and report it to your cellular provider.

Others (under 3%)…Craigslist, in-person solicitations and online messages.

Scam Tracker is free and on our website, bbb.org. Anyone can use it to research if there is a scam going on in their area, how much money could have been lost and other specific details from fellow consumers. Scam Tracker is a heat-map for all of both the United States and Canada.

 

Contact_Scams_Infograph-01

Your Digital Life: STOP. THINK. CONNECT.

As our digital lives become ever-more connected, what happens to the vast amounts of personal data floating around in cyberspace?

According to a recent National Cyber Security Alliance/Zogby Consumer Survey, 77% of Americans feel it is “extremely” or “very important” those companies have easy-to-understand, accessible information about what personal data is collected about them, how it is used and with whom it is shared. Staying safe online and protecting personal data starts with the following message of STOP. THINK. CONNECT: take security precautions, think about how your online actions can impact your safety, security or privacy, and enjoy the Internet with greater confidence.

NCSA and BBB urge everyone to protect their online data with these five tips:

  • Personal info is like money. Value and protect it: Information about you, such as your purchase history or location, has value—just like money. Be thoughtful about who gets that information and how it’s collected through apps and websites.
  • Be aware of what’s being shared: Set the privacy and security settings on web services and devices to your comfort level for information sharing. It’s ok to limit how and with whom you share information.
  • Share with care: Think before posting about yourself and others online. Consider what it reveals, who might see it and how it could be perceived now and in the future.
  • Apply the golden rule online: Post only about others as you would have them post about you.
  • Keep a clean machine: Keep all software, operating systems (mobile and PC) and apps up-to-date to protect against data loss from infections and malware.

Cookie Monster Deleting Cookies

Planning on “Peyton” San Francisco Orange for the Super Bowl?

Our Broncos are headed to the big game next week and many fans are headed out to San Francisco to cheer the team on to a 3rd Super Bowl title. With all the excitement swirling around, BBB wants to give you some tips ahead of either booking a Super Bowl package or being your own travel agent.

The two most difficult elements of a Super Bowl trip to fulfill are game tickets and hotel rooms. BBB urges you to be safe when booking for your dream trip to the 50th Super Bowl.

  • Research the seller/broker.  Find out as much about the seller/broker as possible, including if they are a member of the National Association of Ticket Brokers.  NATB members offer a 200% guarantee on tickets that don’t arrive in time for a game, concert or show.
  • Know the difference between a ticket broker (legitimate and accredited reseller) and a ticket scalper (unregulated and unlicensed ticket seller).
  • Consider buying tickets only from official NFL ticket brokers
  • Check the ticket broker’s refund policy.  Only buy from a ticket reseller that provides clear details about the terms of the transaction.
  • Always use a credit card in case you need to dispute a false charge; never wire money to someone you have never met, and do not use checks or prepaid cards.
  • Check the seats out ahead of time. Always ask for section, row and seat number and double-check on the stadium seating chart to avoid obstructed view seats or seats that do not exist.
  • Ask questions to make certain you get all the answers you need to feel comfortable with your ticket purchase.
  • Use a secure connection and avoid public Wi-Fi.

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