SACRAMENTO, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--It is a typical tax time tragedy. A consumer finds a tax preparer who guarantees him the biggest refund. The tax preparer delivers his promise. The consumer happily refers the tax preparer to friends and family. No research is done on the tax preparer until the clients get a rude awakening — an audit.
“One of the biggest scams are tax preparers who advertise they can guarantee you the biggest refund before they even look at your tax information,” said Yvette Rebella, board member of the California Tax Education Council (CTEC), a state-mandated nonprofit organization that registers unlicensed tax preparers.
Questionable tax preparers will often manipulate tax returns to get the refund as promised, but eventually the IRS will catch the errors and enforce penalties on the client.
“It is especially a problem when consumers go to tax preparers based solely on word of mouth. Recommendations are important, but that does not always mean the tax preparer is qualified,” said Elvira Reyes, CRTP and board member of the Hispanic Association of Professional Services.
It is because of these types of scenarios that California has set requirements for unlicensed tax preparers. State law requires anyone who prepares or assists with preparing tax returns for a fee, and is not a licensed attorney, certified public accountant (CPA) or enrolled agent (EA), to register as a tax preparer with CTEC. Each CTEC-registered tax preparer (CRTP) must be bonded to protect clients against fraud, plus complete courses on tax laws each year.
As of 2011, the Internal Revenue Service is also requiring paid tax preparers have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). The goal of the PTIN is to help the IRS keep better tabs on tax preparers and their work.
Consumers should first verify their tax preparer is either an attorney, CPA, CRTP or EA and can provide proof of a valid PTIN from the IRS. Tax preparers who do not meet those minimum requirements may face penalties.
“Anyone operating without a license or CTEC registration is breaking state law,” said Celeste Heritage, CTEC administrator.
CTEC is a nonprofit organization that was established in 1997 by the California State Legislature to protect taxpayers. Consumers can report illegal tax preparers at www.ctec.org or call (877) 850-2832 for more information.