FORT MYERS - A Fort Myers tax preparation service is accused of grossly overcharging customers and one woman wonders why part of her refund disappeared.
Fox 4 has received more than a half dozen complaints about Loan Buy Sell, or LBS. The tax preparation service has offices across the state and a long trail of complaints.
"They quoted me a price of $75 to file my taxes," said Chrystal Mitchell, a single mother who works part time.
Mitchell brought in a simple 1040 EZ return that can be done online for free. The company told her she would get a refund check for $8109. Her actual return was more than $1000 less than that. She says the company refused to give her any paperwork or receipts.
"They told me they charged me $475 to file my taxes," said Mitchell, who said the original quote was $75.
That still leaves nearly $600 missing from her return.
"It vanished," she said. "I have no clue where that money went to."
Neither does Mary Feichthaler, a Cape Coral licensed CPA, who agreed to take a look at Chrystal's tax forms.
"You certainly got overcharged," Feichthaler told Chrystal.
"For a 1040 EZ I would say she should have been charged a fraction of what she was charged," said Feicthaler.
We were unable to find a phone number on the company's main Web site so we went to their Fort Myers office located at 2950 Winkler Avenue. It turns out they were slapped with a cease and desist order by the city of Fort Myers on Feb. 14.
According to Code Enforcement, LBS didn't pass inspections needed to obtain a license and was closed for putting up hundreds of illegal advertisement signs around the city - after repeated warnings and citations.
Fox 4 found more complaints on consumer Web sites. Other customers reported similar concerns as Chrystal.
Feichthaler says it's a good reminder to know who you're dealing with.
"It sounds like someone was trying to make some money over tax season," said Feichthaler, "by taking advantage of people who really need a quick refund."
Fort Myers police say this is a civil matter. The IRS says they can't comment.
Code Enforcement says the company could open back up as early as Friday if they remove their signs and pay more than $2200 in fines.
- Check the preparer’s qualifications. All paid tax return preparers are required to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number. In addition to making sure they have a PTIN, ask if the preparer belongs to a professional organization and attends continuing education classes.
- Check on the preparer’s history. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the preparer has a questionable history. Also check for any disciplinary actions and for the status of their licenses. For certified public accountants, check with the state boards of accountancy. For attorneys, check with the state bar associations. For enrolled agents, check with the IRS Office of Enrollment.
- Ask about service fees. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund or those who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers can. Also, always make sure any refund due is sent to you or deposited into an account in your name. Taxpayers should not deposit their refund into a preparer’s bank account.
- Ask to e-file your return. Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file. Any paid preparer who prepares and files more than 10 returns for clients must file the returns electronically, unless the client opts to file a paper return. IRS has safely and securely processed more than one billion individual tax returns since the debut of electronic filing in 1990.
- Make sure the preparer is accessible. Make sure you will be able to contact the tax preparer after you file your return, even after the April 15 due date. This may be helpful in the event questions arise about your tax return.
- Provide records and receipts. Reputable preparers will request to see your records and receipts. They will ask you questions to determine your total income and your qualifications for deductions, credits and other items. Do not use a preparer who is willing to e-file your return by using your last pay stub before you receive your Form W-2. This is against IRS e-file rules.
- Never sign a blank return. Avoid tax preparers that ask you to sign a blank tax form.
- Review the entire return before signing. Before you sign your tax return, review it and ask questions. Make sure you understand everything and are comfortable with the accuracy of the return before you sign it.
- Make sure the preparer signs and includes their PTIN. A paid preparer must sign the return and include their PTIN as required by law. The preparer must also give you a copy of the return.
- Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS. You can report abusive tax preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS on Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer. If you suspect a return preparer filed or altered a return without your consent, you should also file Form 14157-A, Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit. Download the forms on the IRS.gov website or order them by mail at 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
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