BBB Warning about Employee Retention Tax Credit Scams

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A Podcast by BBB of the Tri-Counties:…

A BIG thank you to Ayers Automotive Repair in Santa Barbara for supporting this podcast.

Business owners, con artists want to trick you into claiming tax credits that you aren’t eligible for. The Internal Revenue Service warns about scams revolving around the Employee Retention Credit, a tax credit for businesses that continued paying employees during the COVID-19 shutdowns or had a significant income decline during the eligibility period. While most eligible employers have already claimed this credit, unscrupulous companies are advertising ERC services to draw in businesses that are not eligible for the credit.

What’s in it for them? As always, scammers hope to get their hands on your personally identifiable information for identity theft. In some cases, they may charge you for dishonest services. Your best line of defense is to get to know the scam so that you can spot it first.

How the scam works:

You see an ad online or hear one on the radio that claims the government still owes your business an Employee Retention Credit, which you can claim on your taxes this year. They may ask you to call a number or visit a website for more information. A quick chat with the customer service rep or looking at a website convinces you that qualifying for the ERC is extremely easy. You decide to give it a try! You contact the company, and they tell you to qualify for the credit – without knowing anything about your business or how you handled COVID-19 shutdowns. They ask you to provide sensitive information, including your Social Security number, employer identification number (EIN), and other details the scammer can use to commit identity theft. If you hesitate to provide your personal information, they’ll quickly assure you they only want to help you get the money your business is entitled to. The company charges a service fee in other scam versions to help you get the credit. Unfortunately, if you accept their services and claim a credit you aren’t eligible for – even if you do so in good faith – you could face serious consequences, including paying back the credit with penalties and interest. Ultimately, the IRS will hold you responsible for any inaccurate information on your tax return – not the scammer.

How to avoid tax credit scams:

● Don’t believe marketing materials guarantee you’ll qualify for a tax credit. Anyone who makes guarantees without knowing anything about your business is likely up to no good.

● Think twice about promises of huge refunds. Scammers use the same tactics for many different cons. Tax credit schemes are no exception. Scammers count on an emotional response to a promise of fast, free cash before reason sets in. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

● Don’t pay to get money. While paying a tax professional to prepare your taxes each year is perfectly reasonable, watch out for companies or individuals that charge you fees based on high and optimistic percentages of recovered taxes. Keep in mind that true tax professionals always make conservative estimates.

● Get to know the rules about ERC or other tax credits. Always do your research through a reputable source. For example, a quick visit to reveals that employers eligible for the ERC must have sustained a full or partial suspension of operations due to a governmental order by an appropriate authority, and they need to have qualified as a recovery startup business for the third or fourth quarters of 2021, among other qualifications. A little research can debunk scammers’ claims before you get sucked into their schemes.

● Be careful with your personally identifiable information. Never give sensitive information to someone you don’t know and trust. If you are dealing with a tax professional for the first time, investigate beforehand to find out if they have a solid business reputation before you hand over any personal details.

● Always look for businesses that follow BBB Accreditation Standards and BBB Standards for Trust. Trustworthy BBB Accredited Businesses don’t participate in shady practices.

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