April 4, 2011 -- Tax identity theft has become a major problem, without most of us even having heard of it. In congressional hearings, senators even took the IRS itself to task for a lethargic response to the problem. So here's Tax Identity Theft 101 to get you up to speed.
-- A paid preparer must sign the return as required by law.
-- Avoid preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers.
-- Most reputable preparers will ask to see your receipts.
-- Check the preparer's reputation with the Better Business Bureau, the state's board of accountancy for CPAs, the state's bar association for attorneys or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility for enrolled agents.
-- Find out if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that requires continuing education and holds members accountable to a code of ethics.
-- If you do need free tax preparation, the IRS can often help taxpayers prepare their own returns without the assistance of a paid preparer. Check out these helpful links:
-e-file for Individual Taxpayers
-Free Tax Return Preparation For You by Volunteers
Telltale signs that you are already a victim of tax identity theft:
Where to turn for help if you believe you are a victim of tax identity theft: