The IRS is warning taxpayers to avoid unethical tax return preparers, known as “ghost preparers”.
The Internal Revenue Service says that anyone who is paid to prepare or assist in preparing federal tax returns must have a valid 2019 Preparer Tax Identification Number, or PTIN. Paid preparers must sign the return and include their PTIN.
There are many types of tax return preparers, including certified public accountants (CPA’s), enrolled agents, attorneys and others who do not hold professional credentials. However, you expect your chosen preparer to be skilled in tax preparation and be able to accurately file your income tax return. You are also entrusting that person with your most sensitive, personal information about your marital status, your income, your children, your family’s social security numbers and other details of your financial life.
According to the IRS, most tax return preparers provide outstanding and professional tax service; however, each year, some taxpayers are damaged financially because they chose the wrong tax return preparer. We will share some tips from the IRS for choosing a tax preparer and how to avoid unethical “ghost” return preparers.
Ghost preparers do not sign the tax return. Instead, they print the return and tell the taxpayer to sign and mail it to the IRS and for e-filed returns, they prepare but refuse to digitally sign it as the paid preparer. The IRS further states that dishonest and unscrupulous “ghost” tax return preparers try to make fast money by promising a big refund or charging fees based on a percentage of the anticipated BIG refund. The “ghosts” may also require:
Taxpayers are cautioned to review their tax return carefully before signing and ask questions when something is not clear or confusing. And for direct deposit refund, taxpayers should verify that both the routing and bank account number on the completed tax return are correct.
The IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications can help identify many preparers by type of credential or qualification. Narrow your search by getting answers to a few important questions up front.
Q. What kind of tax preparer do I need?
A. Anyone can be a paid tax return preparer if they have an IRS Preparer Tax Identification number (PTIN). The IRS Choosing a Tax Professional page has information about tax preparer credentials and qualifications and get information on the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
Q. How to check a tax preparer’s credentials?
A. Check the professional organizations many tax preparers belong to and those who hold an Annual Filing Season Program Record of Completion.
Q. What if I have a complaint about a tax preparer?
A. Tax preparer fraud is among the list of common tax scams and the IRS is committed to investigating paid tax return preparers who act improperly. To report abusive tax preparers to the IRS, use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. If a taxpayer suspects a tax preparer filed or changed their tax return without their consent, the taxpayer should file Form 14157-A, Tax return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit.
FREE TAX RETURN PREPARATION FOR QUALIGYING TAXPAYERS:
The Volunteer income Tax assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to people who make $56,000 or less, people with disabilities and limited English speaking taxpayers needing assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals. Additionally, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, especially those age 60 and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors. These volunteers who provide tax counseling are usually retired individuals associated with non-profit organizations that receive grants from the IRS.
VITA and TCE sites are generally located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls and other convenient locations around the country. Call 800-906-9887 to locate the nearest VITA or TCE site near you and be mindful that a majority of TCE sites are operated by the AARP Foundation’s Tax Aide program. To locate the nearest AARP TCE Tax-Aide site between January and April, use the AARP Site Locator Tool or call 888-227-7669. At certain sites, taxpayers also have the option to prepare their own basic federal and state tax return for free using web-based tax preparation software with an IRS-certified volunteer to help guide taxpayers through the process.
Most IRS VITA and TCE sites are open from February through April though some are open through October.
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