Make sure to safeguard yourself from some potentially costly tax time hazards.

Make sure to safeguard yourself from some potentially costly tax time hazards.

Tips to make the season less taxing

Tax return season can be frustrating for many; don't make things worse by falling for a scam.

Most Canadians will by now have received all the documents they need to file their 2016 income tax returns, and are facing the prospect of either sitting down to that task, or finding someone to prepare their taxes for them. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has a few tips for consumers looking for a tax professional, and those who want to avoid common tax-time scams.

To find a trusted tax professional, the BBB suggests asking about their training, experience, and knowledge of current tax law (which changes constantly). Also ask if they are a member of a professional organization with continuing education requirements and a code of ethics.

Ask if they guarantee the accuracy of their work, and if they will amend your tax return if a mistake is discovered. Also make sure they can be reached year-round if a mistake is found or you are required to undergo an audit; in these, and other, instances you want to ensure you can reach them when the deadline for filing taxes has come and gone.

It can be a good idea to ask for references, and if in doubt contact to make sure they have a reputation for reliability and trustworthiness. Request an estimate of the preparation fee before authorizing any work; and, when the work is done, make sure the preparer has signed it, and get a copy for your records.

And do your due diligence. Review the return before signing it, and ask for clarification if there is something you do not understand or think has been overlooked or misstated.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) scam has died down considerably, but it is still ongoing, with calls at all hours demanding a tax repayment. The calls can become extremely threatening very quickly, with recipients told they could be jailed or deported (if applicable) if payment is not made.

As reported last week, a new wrinkle on the scam is scammers contacting those who have already lost money and telling them they can recover their funds: for a fee.

Emails purporting to come from the CRA are also doing the rounds. Never open emails claiming to come from the CRA, and if you do, do not download any attachments. The messages usually advise the recipient that they have qualified for a tax refund, and that they need to click on a link to input information.

The link takes the person to a bogus website that requires the visitor to enter personal information, which will sometimes re-direct a (legitimate) direct deposit tax return to the scammer. These messages can also exploit weaknesses in your browser and initiate a download of spyware or malware without your knowledge.

Remember that the CRA does not contact people by telephone or email, so do not be afraid to hang up or hit the delete button.

If you are preparing your own tax return online, do not use a public wireless connection (such as those available in coffee shops). Even using the latest wireless security encryption standards can be risky, so use a wired connection when dealing with sensitive financial and personal information. If you are using a wired computer in a location such as a library, remember to sign out of all programs and take all your paperwork with you.

Qualifying residents of 16 Mile, Ashcroft, Bonaparte, Boston Flats, Cache Creek, and Clinton whose incomes are below a certain level can make use of the free tax return program offered by the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program, which runs through the end of April. For more information, and to see if you qualify, contact Vivian Edwards at (250) 453-9077 (Ashcroft and Boston Flats); Betty Antoine at (250) 457-9261 (Bonaparte); Adeline Sarver at (250) 457-6689 (Cache Creek and 16 Mile); or Yvette May at (250) 459-7725 or John White at (250) 459-2680 or (250) 377-55848 (Clinton).