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Tax advisers turn to Net

Tax advisers are getting online in droves to reach as many clamoring taxpayers as possible. Chat rooms are OK. Cheat rooms are not.

The tax season is suddenly upon us, and tax advisers are wasting no time turning to the Internet to offer tips and guidance for filing returns.

Today Coopers & Lybrand announced the launch of the Tax News Network, as previously reported by CNET. The online service provides tax information to corporate tax and finance professionals. It also lets users chat online with tax experts.

Members can customize the delivery of tax news, in real time, and links are offered to other tax sites. Online training programs also are available. Some of the features require a payment of $45 a month, however.

The Net increasingly is being used as a tool to exchange information about taxes and download forms for filing returns. Consumer groups say the sites can be useful, and often are quicker than going to the Post Office to get tax forms or waiting on hold to get information by phone.

They warn, however, that the sites are not a panacea. As with any online service, they may not be as comprehensive as they profess, or they too may be tough to contact--particularly as the April 15 tax deadline looms closer.

Nonetheless, the sites are flourishing. Another big accounting firm, Deloitte & Touche, has an online service that provides updates on tax issues. This week's version lists the latest tax news from Capitol Hill and an online library for looking up tax issues. And there's a moneymaking element. The site allows consumers to order books, such as 1996 Tax Changes which costs $6.95.

H&R Block also has a Web site. It lets users roughly calculate whether they will get a refund by entering income information.

The Internal Revenue Service also puts a wealth of tax materials online, including the option of downloading myriad forms. The site's motto: "Faster than a 1040-EZ."

But the IRS will not be closing down its offices in favor of the easier-to-reach virtual offices. Earlier this year, the IRS shelved plans to file tax returns online because of a critical report by the General Accounting Office which warned about the state of online security.