Look Out for Ghost Preparers This Tax Season

You could be searching for answers if the IRS reaches out and your preparer vanishes

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Tax scams are nothing new, but the IRS has a new warning for taxpayers: "ghost preparers."

A ghost preparer is someone who acts like a typical accountant, but instead is only looking to scam you out of your money. Some of them will even leave town so that it's impossible to find them if you or the IRS have questions.

No matter who prepares your return, you are the one responsible for what's on it once you sign it.

Raphael Tulino - IRS spokesperson

Tulino says there are some red flags to look out for when choosing someone to help you with your taxes.

"Make sure they don't tell you things like, 'I'm going to get you a big refund no matter what,'" Tulino said. "That's somebody who might inflate something or put income on there that doesn't reflect your situation."

Keep an eye out for tax preparers with big promises about big returns before they see your income information.

"If they're telling you something that's too good to be true, that makes you think too much, you might not just walk out of their office, you might run," said Tulino.

Other red flags include telling you to disregard any contact from the IRS because they will handle it, or suggest allowing the refund to be deposited into their own account instead of yours.

"You want to choose somebody reputable," said Tulino. "You want to choose somebody that knows what they're doing and will give you an honest and accurate return."

One way to make sure you are working with someone reputable is to ask them for their PTIN (Preparer Tax Identification Number), a nine-digit code that identifies the person who prepared your taxes.

"[That number] is needed by any preparer who's going to prepare a return for a fee," said Tulino.

If you need help with your taxes and can't afford to pay someone to do them for you, the IRS has dozens of volunteer sites around the county where you can get free tax help if you qualify.

You can search by zip code to find the one nearest you here.

You can also fill out your taxes online for free with the IRS Free File program.

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