Some consumer tips to help avoid excessive fees or fraud when using paid tax preparers

Some consumer tips to help avoid excessive fees or potential fraud when using paid tax preparers, according to the Justice Department, Internal Revenue Service and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:

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— Make sure any tax refund due is sent to you or deposited into your bank account, not deposited into a preparer's bank account.

— Do not use a preparer willing to electronically file your return using your last pay stub rather than a W-2.

— Do not use a preparer who fabricates business expenses or claims bogus tax credits you may not be entitled to.

— Ask about service fees upfront. Avoid preparers who base fees on a percentage of your refund or say they can get a larger refund for you than others can.

— Never sign a blank return.

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— Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS, using forms 14157 and 14157-A.

— Get help with taxes for free, if possible. If your income is $53,000 or less, if you have a disability or are a limited English speaker, you are eligible for free tax preparation services at a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance location: http://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/ or call 800-906-9887. Persons 60 or older can get free assistance through Tax Counseling for the Elderly: http://www.aarp.org/applications/VMISLocator/searchTaxAideLocations.action or call 888-227-7669.