BLOG » Free Tax Prep Sites: Inaccurate Returns & Privacy Breach Concerns

September 23rd, 2011 at 1:59 pm — By R&G Brenner

The old adage that “you get what you pay for” is compounded when applied to free income tax preparation…In fact, a free tax return may cost taxpayers more than they bargained for.  The title of a report filed by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) sums it up frankly: Accuracy of Tax Returns, the Quality Assurance Processes, and Security of Taxpayer Information Remain Problems for the Volunteer Program.

The TIGTA audits of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites–a program sponsored by the IRS which caters to low-income tax payers, the elderly & the disabled–found that their accuracy rate was far below 50%.  Of the 36 tax returns that undercover TIGTA auditors had prepared at VITA sites, only 14 were considered to be filed correctly. That is a whopping 61% inaccuracy rate.  What is particularly alarming is the deliberate “modified facts” that some volunteers engaged in to inflate potential refunds, as well as the absence of a thorough vetting process to weed-out potentially unscrupulous volunteers:

The accuracy rates for tax returns prepared at Volunteer Program sites decreased sharply from the 2010 Filing Season. Of the 36 tax returns prepared for TIGTA auditors, only 14 (39 percent) were prepared correctly. Tax returns were prepared incorrectly because volunteers did not follow all guidelines. For example, volunteers did not always use the intake sheets correctly. For three (14 percent) of the 22 incorrectly prepared tax returns, volunteers knowingly modified the facts the auditors presented…[Furthermore] Current steps and processes do not ensure the integrity of volunteers, even though the volunteers have access to taxpayers’ Personally Identifiable Information, such as Social Security Numbers, driver licenses, and home addresses.

TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George had the following to say:

The findings of this review are very troubling…The Volunteer Program plays an important role in helping many taxpayers, notably those who have low incomes, and the elderly, disabled, and limited-English proficient, participate in the tax system. Like all taxpayers, they deserve to have their tax returns prepared accurately. I am pleased that the IRS has agreed to our recommendations to address these problems.

Some of the important TGITA recommendations agreed to by the VITA program are as follows:

  • Include anonymous shopping visits as part of the quality review process
  • Improve controls over Volunteer Standards of Conduct (Form 13615)
  • Develop a process to ensure all volunteers are following the guidance focusing on the integrity of the Volunteer Program and the security of taxpayer information
  • Review the IRS fraud hotline procedures to determine best practices

R&G Brenner recognizes the valuable service that the thousands of VITA volunteers provide to millions of taxpayers across the country. However, it is apparent that the quality of these returns leaves much to be desired considering the continually changing & vastly complex tax code.  When you pair this with the fact that most VITA volunteers receive little or no compensation, it is not hard to see why so many returns are being prepared incorrectly, and that an environment for potential identity theft is being sewn.

For many, a tax return is the most important financial document they will file each year. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that your tax preparer have a vested interest in the accuracy of your filings.  Here at R&G Brenner, we offer many promotions including a $50 introductory fee for new clients that qualify for tax assistance.  We can’t compete with “free”, but we can guarantee that our tax professionals, enrolled agents & CPA’s will have an attentive vested interest in preparing your return accurately, and getting you back every penny you deserve.  Remember, it’s not “free” if you are forced to spend considerable time retriving old tax documents, and money on penalties and interest correcting mistakes.  Contact R&G Brenner for more information, and to have your tax return reviewed for accuracy free of charge.

Sources: TIGTAWebCPA

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