March 2008   VOLUME 40 ISSUE 2  
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The Taxing Part of Tax Relief

No one really likes paying taxes, but if it’s a choice between life’s two certainties, most of us would choose taxes over death.  Nevertheless, those who have relied on American Tax Relief (ATR) to assist them with serious tax problems might feel that they’ve had a near-death experience and still haven’t solved the tax dilemma.

 

American Tax Relief must have a significant advertising budget, because complainants tell us they’ve seen their ads on television, heard them on radio, received postcard advertisements in the mail, and visited their website as well.  Although the 151 complaints we’ve received against this F-rated company may seem like a lot, that number would likely be much higher were it not that nearly 11,000 people checked them out with the Better Business Bureau within the last three years.

 

Consumer complaints and the company’s response to them vary, but only slightly.  And they all begin with the individual’s acceptance of ATR’s advertising claims and oral promises.

 

For example, a 38-year-old Georgia complainant who works as a recruiter for a manufacturer and who prefers not to be named, fell behind in his taxes to the extent of $21,000.  He’d heard an ATR radio commercial and contacted them.  He couldn’t pay ATR’s full $3,900 fee, but paid about half.  “I told him [ATR]I was working with the IRS and that they were going to levy,” he says.  “He assured me that with a power of attorney he would work with the IRS and that wouldn’t happen.”

 

But it did.  Several times.  The complainant says he would fax paperwork to ATR, they would ask for more, he would send more, they would ask for still more . . .  Then he got a fax from ATR saying that they’d been trying to contact him and were going to drop his case if he didn’t contact them with 48 hours.

 

Although the client says ATR did nothing for him, ATR denied his request for a refund.  “He needs to pay the balance and stop running from us,” says ATR.  He’s out $1,900.

 

In another case, a Washington complainant (who also prefers not to be named) whose husband’s business was running in the red and putting the couple behind in both state and federal taxes says they contacted ATR in February of last year after they’d been threatened with liens and garnishments.  Three months later, when they checked with the taxing agencies, they learned that ATR had never gotten in touch with them.

 

The complainant also called the company again and again, only now and then being able to reach anyone.  Finally, last July, she says, someone at the company told her to stop calling them, saying, “We have your money; you’re out of luck.”

 

In their response to this complaint, ATR denies that the complainants are clients.  “Either this guy used another name or he hired another company and has us confused with them,” they say.  But the wife of “this guy” says she has a letter from them, thanking them for becoming a client and acknowledging their $5,500 payment.

 

And a Massachusetts businessman who called ATR, asking to speak to a tax attorney, was told, “I’m sure we can help you.”  ATR required $3,800 in advance, but assured him that his credit card would not be charged until they received certain paperwork from him.

 

ATR responded to his complaint by saying, “Not only is this guy a serious tax delinquent, but he is also a terrible liar.”  The complainant admits authorizing the charge, but only because of ATR’s representations to him.  He says he never spoke to an attorney, never returned the power of attorney they required, and never signed the contract they sent him “after the fact.”   Although he called to cancel their services just a few days after his first call, ATR told him they’d done too much work already to allow him a refund.  To his question of how they had done that without the power of attorney, they shot back, “We’ve got your money, and you’re not going to get it back.”

 

ATR has responded to all complaints presented to it so far.  Typically, the company blames the client.  Often they say that the client didn’t send the financial information they requested.  According to one client, ATR told her it would take seven to nine months to resolve her tax problem.  But when she called after nine months, they hadn’t done anything because, they said, they hadn’t received the information from her.  Not once during that time had they told her they needed anything more.

 

ATR often insists that the client authorized credit card charges, even though the client says the company promised not to actually make the charge until the client agreed.  They also claim that the complainant dodges their calls, even though it’s not plausible that a financially strapped complainant who’s already paid a significant amount and seen no results would avoid them.  Rather, complainants say they can’t get return calls from ATR and that when they do reach someone at the company, they’re subjected to verbal abuse and often hung up on.

 

ATR’s response to one complaint is particularly telling:  “Most of the people who filed complaints are the same tax delinquents who refuse to pay taxes, file taxes and send in the required information to us.  The scam is that these tax delinquents continue to cheat the IRS and the honest taxpayers and try to blame others for their wrongdoings.  If someone keeps not paying taxes intentionally, then that person is the one committing a scam. . .”

 

The offers and claims ATR and similar companies make are nothing new.  The Internal Revenue Service issued at least one warning several years ago about companies claiming that “tax debts can be settled for ‘pennies on the dollar’ through the Offer in Compromise Program.”  This article expressed IRS’s concern about “unscrupulous promoters charging excessive fees to taxpayers who have no chance of meeting the program’s requirements.”

 

More recently, an IRS representative told us that although the IRS will work with such companies if they have a power of attorney from the client, the companies can’t do any more than taxpayers can do themselves.  Taxpayers “are taking a big risk when they hire these companies to take care of their taxes,” she says.

 

Taxes remain a certainty, but at least those thousands of taxpayers who requested a reliability report before shelling out to ATR can probably rest in peace knowing that they’re not out thousands of dollars for tax relief and still stuck with the tax debt.


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