The Internal Revenue Service is reminding taxpayers to avoid unethical “ghost” tax return preparers. What is a “ghost” preparer? Well, it may be more than you are aware.
If your preparer fills out your return and then will not sign it they are a ghost preparer. Unscrupulous ghost preparers will print the return and tell the taxpayer to sign and mail it to the IRS. For e-filed returns, the ghost will prepare but refuse to digitally sign as the paid preparer.
By law, anyone who is paid to prepare or assists in preparing federal tax returns must have a valid Preparer Tax Identification Number, or PTIN. Paid preparers must sign and include their PTIN on the return. Not signing a return is a red flag that the paid preparer may be looking to make a fast buck by promising a big refund or charging fees based on the size of the refund.
Ghost tax return preparers may also:
- Require payment in cash only and not provide a receipt.
- Invent income to qualify their clients for tax credits.
- Claim fake deductions to boost the size of the refund.
- Direct refunds into their bank account, not the taxpayer’s account.
No matter who prepares the return, the IRS urges taxpayers to review it carefully and ask questions about anything not clear before signing. Taxpayers should verify both their routing and bank account number on the completed tax return for any direct deposit refund. And taxpayers should watch out for ghost preparers inserting their bank account information onto the returns.
Click here for tips on what to look for when choosing a tax preparer.