The Internal Revenue Service has offered taxpayers tips on choosing tax preparers as part of the agency's efforts to combat tax preparer fraud.

"The most reputable preparers will request to see your records and receipts, and will ask you multiple questions to determine your total income and your qualifications for expenses, deductions and other items," said the IRS in the first of a series of tax season tips. "By doing so, they have your best interest in mind and are trying to help you avoid penalties, interest or additional taxes that could result from later IRS contacts."

The IRS acknowledged that most tax return preparers are "professional, honest and provide excellent service to their clients." Nevertheless, it listed the following tips for choosing a preparer:

* Find out what the service fees are before the return is prepared. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the amount of your refund or who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers.

* Only use a tax professional that signs your tax return and provides you with a copy for your records.

* Avoid tax preparers that ask you to sign a blank tax form.

* Choose a tax preparer that will be around to answer questions after the return has been filed.

* Ask questions. Do you know anyone who has used the tax professional? Were they satisfied with the service they received?

* Check to see if the preparer has any questionable history with the Better Business Bureau, the state's board of accountancy for CPAs or the state's bar association for attorneys. Find out if the preparer belongs to a professional organization that requires its members to pursue continuing education and also holds them accountable to a code of ethics.

* Determine if the preparer's credentials meet your needs.  Does your state have licensing or registration requirements for paid preparers?  Is he or she an enrolled agent, CPA or attorney? If so, the preparer can represent taxpayers before the IRS on all matters - including audits, collections and appeals. Other return preparers can represent taxpayers only in audits regarding a return signed as a preparer.

* Before you sign your tax return, review it and ask questions.

Last week, the IRS issued another warning to taxpayers to beware of tax preparer fraud and offered some similar recommendations (see IRS Warns Taxpayers of Tax Preparer Fraud). The IRS also told taxpayers they could report suspected tax fraud and abusive tax preparers to the IRS on Form 3949-A or by sending a letter to the agency.

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