The IRS has reminded taxpayers to avoid “ghost” tax return preparers whose refusal to sign returns can cause an array of problems. Filing a valid and accurate tax return is important because the taxpayer is ultimately responsible for it. Ghost preparers get their name because they do not sign tax returns they prepare. Like a ghost, they try to be invisible to the fact that they have prepared the return and will print the return and get the taxpayer to sign and mail it. Similarly, for e-filed returns, the ghost preparer will prepare but refuse to digitally sign it as the paid preparer.
By law, anyone who is paid to prepare or assist in the preparation of a federal tax return must have a valid Preparer Tax Identification Number, or PTIN. Accordingly, 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.
Further, the IRS urged taxpayers to choose a tax return preparer wisely. The Choosing a Tax Professional page on the IRS website has information about tax preparer credentials and qualifications. Further, the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications can help identify many preparers by type of credential or qualification.
Taxpayers have also been urged to review their tax returns, notwithstanding who prepares it. Additionally, taxpayers should verify both their routing and bank account number on the completed tax return for any direct deposit refund. Moreover, taxpayers should watch out for preparers putting their bank account information onto the returns. Taxpayers can report preparer misconduct to the IRS using IRS Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. Finally, if a taxpayer suspects a tax preparer filed or changed their tax return without their consent, they should file Form 14157-A, Tax Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit.