The IRS is cracking down on fraudulent tax return preparers and warning taxpayers what to watch out for when they hire someone to fill out their tax forms.
"When you pick a return preparer, you want to use the same care as when you're picking a doctor," said IRS Special Agent Michael Lemoine.
Unscrupulous tax preparers use a variety of scenarios to try to beef up refunds and therefore their own fees or business, including making up businesses, including fictitious dependents and lying about numbers, according to Lemoine.
"But they are not helping the taxpayer because, ultimately, the taxpayer is responsible for what's on their tax return," he said. "Years later, when the IRS comes back and you've spent that big refund, the money's gone."
The IRS has busted a handful of area tax preparers in recent months, including Eddie Alberto Madrigal who operated Madrigal Tax Express. Madrigal pleaded guilty in October to 14 counts of aiding and abetting the preparation of a false tax return. He is awaiting sentencing this month.
John Cardenas, who operated Cardenas Income Tax Service, also pleaded guilty in August for aiding in fraudulent tax returns. He awaits punishment.
Sampson Delton Cotton is awaiting trial on charges he prepared fraudulent tax returns at his business, SC Financial Consultant Tax. Co.
When choosing a return preparer, the IRS advises:
*Avoid tax preparers who claim they can get larger refunds than others
*Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage on the amount of the refund.
*Make sure the preparer signs your return and provides you with a copy.
*Review the completed return before you sign it.
*Make sure you understand what's on your return.