The IRS Criminal Investigation Division’s Los Angeles Field Office is urging taxpayers to be very careful when choosing a tax return preparer this filing season.

“Income tax return preparers occupy a unique position in our system of taxation,” said Leslie P. DeMarco, special agent-in-charge of IRS Criminal Investigation's Los Angeles Field Office. “Their position is unique in that they are trusted by their clients to help them pay the least amount of tax allowed under the law and they are trusted by the IRS to follow the law. The key is the law.  Those return preparers that violate the law, for their own benefit or for the benefit of themselves and their clients, will be prosecuted. As a part of its national strategy, IRS - Criminal Investigation is committed to identifying, investigating, and prosecuting those income tax return preparers who exploit our nation's tax laws and violate the public trust for their own personal financial gain."

The IRS issued this set of hints when choosing a return preparer:

•    Be cautious of tax preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers.
•    Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund.  Use a reputable tax professional who signs the tax return and provides a copy.
•    Consider whether the individual or firm will be around to answer questions about the preparation of the tax return months, or even years, after the return has been filed.
•    Check the person’s credentials. Only attorneys, certified public accountants (CPAs) and enrolled agents can represent taxpayers before the IRS in all matters, including audits, collection and appeals. Other return preparers may only represent taxpayers for audits of returns they actually prepared.
•    Find out if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that provides its members with continuing education and resources and holds them to a code of ethics.

Reputable preparers will ask to see receipts and will ask multiple questions to determine whether expenses, deductions and other items qualify. By doing so, they are trying to help their clients avoid penalties, interest or additional taxes that could result from an IRS examination.

The IRS noted that recently, a Gardena, Calif., return preparer was sentenced to spend 72 months in federal prison after being convicted of aiding and assisting in the preparation of false income tax returns, causing a loss to the government of more than $2.7 million. Additionally, a National City, Calif. return preparer was sentenced to 65 months in prison for preparing false tax returns.

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