I am considering an in-person Tax Preparer vs doing it myself online. I feel a little safer doing it online, but an in-person Preparer can offer advice for complex Tax situations.

My concern is that Tax Preparers have access to a lot of personal information like SSNs, Names, Addresses, Bank Account numbers (for refund deposits), etc. And they can collect even more during casual conversation in meeting with clients. A lot of this personal information is kept in paper form in their offices. Their advertising focuses on maximizing returns and audit protection, with little focus on security.

If I were to pick an in-person preparer, what policies should I look for? Are there questions I should ask?

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    This question is really off topic. In addition it really varies by firm. Each is responsible to maintain its own best practices for safeguarding PII(Personaly Identifiable Information). – user4127 Mar 13 '12 at 13:37
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    It's tax season and I'm weighing my options. Having knowledge of safeguarding practices would give me a checklist to use when screening Tax Preparers. IMO this is very relevant for a personal finance site. – Vik David Mar 13 '12 at 15:22
  • Then change the question to What should i include on a checklist for choosing a preparer. That I think would be very much on topic. – user4127 Mar 13 '12 at 17:58
  • I've reworded the question as requested – Vik David Apr 6 '12 at 11:35

The IRS has some requirements for tax preparers who e-file.

I was suprised by the lack of rigor -- the IRS "Safeguards" program for public sector entities are very comprehensive.

  • Most of those surround the collection of data online and transmission to the IRS. There is little forced protection for your data if you use an actual person to help prepare. Further so long as the company notifies you that your data was breached there is no provision for the actual protection to that data or consequences for failure to do so. – user4127 Mar 13 '12 at 19:53

Ask the accountant whether or not they keep paper documents on file - a firm I interned at returned all the client's personal documents after the return was filed. Also ask how they save your data - it should be stored in a secure file on a remote desktop or some other type of password-protected location. Again, a firm I interned at never stored client data in files that were not on a restricted-access desktop. Only employees of the firm could access client data, and we had to use a dual-authentication log-in to access any client data. Also, we had a firm policy not to transmit sensitive information via email, and not to save any client data off of the remote desktop. These are all good questions to ask if you are concerned about security, which you absolutely should be given all the personal information accountants need to file a tax return.

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