5 steps to protect your pocketbook and your peace of mind
Tax time or anytime, certified public accountants (CPA) are a valuable resource for more than just tax preparation. It’s becoming more common for individuals to engage with a CPA for a variety of services, such as consulting, investing, or financial planning and management. Often, this CPA may be found via the internet.
But is that person behind the screen licensed, qualified, and trustworthy? Just like hiring a CPA face-to-face, the Department of Consumer Affairs’ (DCA) California Board of Accountancy (CBA) says you still need to do your homework before choosing an online CPA.
Also keep in mind that, if you search for a CPA online, your search may return results that include CPAs licensed outside of California—and outside CBA’s jurisdiction.
Listed below are five key CBA tips consumers can use to protect themselves in their search. These tips shouldn’t be construed as an endorsement or recommendation to secure public accounting services on the internet. Rather, these tips—which apply to CBA licensees—are offered simply as consumer-protection suggestions in advance of considering and selecting a CPA on the internet:
- Check the license—Check the status of a professional’s license anytime by using DCA’s license search at https://search.dca.ca.gov, or call DCA’s Consumer Information Center toll-free at (800) 952-5210 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Make sure the CPA holds a current California license with active practice rights. Also, check or inquire whether there have been any enforcement actions against the CPA. Out-of-state licenses can be verified at www.CPAverify.org.
- Do an interview—Interview the CPA either by email or phone to ensure they can provide the services you need. Ask about procedures for providing and receiving information. Ensure they are responsive to issues that concern you like timeliness, accuracy, and confidentiality.
- Verify information—Verify the information about an individual or firm on its website is accurate. Does the individual or firm provide the same information when you make contact by phone?
- Get it in writing—It is of primary importance to make sure that, before any work is done by the CPA, you receive an engagement letter or other written documentation detailing the work to be performed for you, who specifically will be performing the work, and the cost of services.
- Directory doesn’t mean qualified—If you are using the internet to obtain a directory of CPAs, keep in mind that a directory listing doesn’t ensure that the practitioner is well qualified or licensed. You still need to ask the appropriate questions and check the status of their license.