It's tax season, and the Better Business Bureau warns you to beware of the growing crime of tax preparer fraud. This can occur in several ways, as one area woman has learned.
As Local 12 Troubleshooter Howard Ain shows us, the victim has yet to see any of her tax refund money from last year's filing. Karin Lerner of Amberley Village went to a tax preparer she had used back in 2011. "A young lady that we used the year before to complete our taxes I asked against to complete my taxes."
Lerner says she brought over her tax information, and planned to meet again after the taxes were prepared. "It was about a week of me trying to call her when I finally contacted her she said she had already submitted the tax information at that point. Maybe I should have been more savvy but unfortunately I'm not."
Lerner's tax return was sent to the IRS without her signature. "I was not sure what I was going to be getting but after talking to the IRS it seemed that the tax refund was close to $4000."
Then Lerner was totally unable to contact her tax preparer, Bettina Lewis. So she turned to the IRS for help getting her tax refund. "What it came down to was my money finally went to Chase Morgan Bank after going to another bank first and then being transferred to Chase Morgan Bank. At that point the money was withdrawn-- there was no money at all."
The Better Business Bureau says such tax preparer fraud is increasing. Cincinnati police filed two theft charges against Bettina Lewis. A warrant is out for her arrest. "They feel like they've allocated the money appropriately. My tax return was submitted, it's basically not their fault that this person has stolen my money."
Police say the tax preparer had Lerner's open a bank account in both their names. The preparer was only supposed to take out her fees. But, police say, she took the entire refund.
Seek a tax pro who is an enrolled agent, certified public accountant or a tax attorney. Be wary of tax preparation services promising big refunds. And pay the preparer upfront so your refund check goes into your bank account-- not a joint account or a preparer's account.
Lewis is charged with felony theft. If you know where police can find Lewis call Crimestoppers at 352-3040.