The IRS warns taxpayers to avoid unethical tax return preparers, known as ghost preparers. By law, anyone who is paid to prepare or assist in preparing federal tax returns must sign the return and include their Preparer Tax Identification Number.
‘Ghost’ preparers, however, avoid signing the tax return. Instead, they often inflate any potential refund and print the return and instruct the taxpayer to sign and mail it to the IRS. Or, for e-filed returns, they prepare but do not digitally sign it as a paid preparer to avoid scrutiny.
Taxpayers can 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, they should file Form 14157-A, Tax Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit.