Beware promises of 'outlandish' tax refunds

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It's hard to resist the promise of a big refund -- especially when you never imagined you had one coming to you.

Yet promises of "outlandish" or inflated tax refunds are exactly what scammers posing as tax preparers make in order to lure in unsuspecting clients, the IRS said Thursday.

Such fraudulent preparers may advertise with fliers, phony storefronts or by spreading the word at churches and community groups.

"Scammers prey on people who do not have a filing requirement, such as low-income individuals or the elderly. They also prey on non-English speakers," the agency warned.

Related: IRS warns of phishing tax scams, fake emails

It doesn't stop there. They also hit up people who do have to file and are expecting a refund. But the scammers will promise to get them a much bigger one by telling them they are entitled to tax breaks they don't ordinarily take - such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Or the scammer may promise to get them an outsized refund on the basis of fictitious government benefits or rebates.

Among the signs that your preparer is a fraud: He may ask you to sign a blank return or not give you a copy of the return he prepares on your behalf. Or he may tell you that your refund should be deposited directly into his account first, and then he'll deduct his fee from it before paying you.

Related: IRS warns of shady tax preparers stealing refunds and identities

The risk to the taxpayer is not just that you will pay money to a con artist, thereby losing out on whatever refund you are legitimately owed. You may also have to pay penalties for filing a false claim and getting a fraudulent refund, since you are legally responsible for the information reported on your tax return.

To make matters worse, the IRS said it has heard that victims of such refund scams sometimes lose federal benefits they are entitled to -- such as some low-income housing benefits or certain veteran's benefits -- because the scammer made false income claims on their returns.

To check whether the tax preparer you want to use is legitimate, the IRS has created a list of tips for how to choose one.

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