Beware of Tax Preparer Scams 

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If someone you pay to do your income taxes isn’t willing to sign and file the return, you may be dealing with what the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) warns is an unscrupulous “ghost” preparer who's looking to cheat you.

Ghost preparers, the IRS says in a news release, “look to make a fast buck by promising a big refund or charging fees based on a percentage of the refund. These scammers hurt honest taxpayers who are simply trying to do the right thing and file a legitimate tax return.” Other telltale signs that you’re a victim of a ghost include:

  • The preparer only accepts cash for the preparation fee and does not give a receipt.
  • The preparer invents income to qualify clients for tax credits they aren't entitled to or claims fake deductions to boost tax refunds.
  • The preparer directs tax refunds to his or her own bank account rather than to the taxpayer’s account. 

The first step for not getting “ghosted” is to be careful when choosing someone to prepare your taxes. IRS spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda urges people to “avoid fly-by-night operations. Right now we’re in the midst of tax season, and we want everybody to take proper steps to select a credentialed and legitimate tax preparer,” she says.

A ghost could be somebody who addresses a group of people and offers to prepare tax returns for a small fee, according to an IRS spokesman. Or it could be somebody who puts up a shingle during tax season, then vanishes and isn't around to stand by his or her work. “Be careful of somebody who promises you a big refund without knowing your entire situation,” the spokesman says. And “be careful of somebody who says, ‘Don’t contact the IRS. We’ll take care of it without you having to do that.’ “


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