Buyer beware for IRS help

January 26, 2009 8:43:49 PM PST
If you're having trouble with the IRS, you may seek help namely from a tax representation company. But buyer beware many consumers are complaining they got nothing in return for the stiff fees they paid one such company.

If you want to get the IRS off your back you've probably noticed the commercial for JK Harris. The company claims to be the nation's largest tax representation company and in its commercial, JK Harris says it can help you if you can't afford to pay Uncle Sam back taxes. But there are a lot of things the commercial doesn't tell you.

Christopher Burke of Williamstown, Gloucester County owes Uncle Sam thousands and thousands of dollars in back taxes.

"It has been stressful."

So imagine Christopher's relief when he saw a JK Harris commercial that said: we work to get you off the IRS treadmill and help you solve your tax dilemma.

Christopher said JK Harris told him it could slash his IRS debt by submitting an "Offer in Compromise".

The analysis from the company shows Christopher would have to pay the government only five-hundred-dollars instead of the 17-thousand-dollars he actually owed! But guess how much the JK Harris fee is? 2-thousand-950-dollars!

"I paid it all full because I wanted the situation eliminated."

That was back in November 2007, the problem now?

"The bottom line they didn't do nothing."

Christopher said he has the same tax bill and even worse the IRS put another lien on his home!

"It's not fair. It's not fair. I work hard everyday."

And Christopher isn't the only one complaining about JK Harris.

"This company has an F rating with the BBB," said Andy Goode of the Better Business Bureau.

The BBB said like Christopher, many consumers are complaining JK Harris exaggerated the benefits of its service. JK Harris has been ordered to change its ways. In June, the company and its founder, John Harris, entered into a consent judgment with 18 state attorneys general.

"And as a result the company has agreed to change some of its practices including how it markets itself," Goode said.

JK Harris also agreed to make clearer disclosures to consumers, reform its advertising and sales practices, and pay consumers refunds if the company isn't able to work out a compromise with the IRS.

JK Harris told Action News the company started following the terms of that agreement nearly four years ago, before the agreement became official, but that doesn't seem to be helping its complaint record.

"In the past three years, they've had over 800 complaints and in the past year, they've had approximately 300 complaints," Goode said.

The BBB said consumers should use caution before signing up with any tax representation service by reviewing all documents and reading the fine print. For instance, while the commercial may sound good, the disclaimer on the JK Harris website says "Services will be provided, in whole or in large part, by persons who are not 'tax professionals', 'former IRS Agents', or 'tax experts'".

Although JK Harris told Action News the company does employ more than 40 individuals who are qualified to negotiate with the IRS.

As for Christopher, he just wants the nearly three-thousand-dollar refund he said the company owes him.

"I was hoping, I want it back, I want it back so I can give it right to the IRS."

Action News asked JK Harris about Christopher's refund. The company said as its contract requires Christopher must request a refund in writing. JK Harris also said Christopher's offer in compromise was rejected because he refused to provide necessary information. Christopher disputes that saying he has proof he submitted all the information JK Harris requested.

BBB report on JK Harris

Complete response from JK Harris:

First of all, concerning Mr. Burke:
We believe had Mr. Burke been forthcoming from the start with JK Harris and IRS, he would have had a chance to get a settlement, however, because he refused to provide the necessary information, his offer was not accepted. We submitted an Offer in Compromise to the IRS on Mr. Burke's behalf, but because he failed to provide us the additional information requested by the IRS after submission of his offer, it was rejected. There was a question from the IRS about whether he was self-employed or not and he never provided the necessary paperwork for us to prove otherwise to the IRS in order to allow us to advocate on his behalf. When the IRS requested updated information, had he provided it, we believe we would have been able to assist Mr. Burke. After his offer was rejected, we told him that if he could provide us updated financials, we would resubmit the offer at no additional charge to him. He then declined.

Additionally, it appears that Mr. Burke, once he found out that he needed to produce the necessary updated documentation, instead of providing what was needed, decided that he would simply ask for a refund. It concerns us that he was not being as forthright with his financial situation as he could have been.

Concerning the AGs settlement:
"We worked with the 18 states Attorneys General for approximately five years. We negotiated in good faith and have been following the terms of that agreement since day one despite the fact that the investigation had not been settled. We've been operating under these guidelines for nearly four years and continue to do so, although a settlement was not reached until this past June. We believe the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance that we signed has not only allowed us to help serve our clients better, it has provided, for the first time, a blueprint of marketing and operational rules for the tax resolution industry as a whole."

Concerning the BBB:
The BBB is a for-profit, non-governmental private business. Their charter states that they exist to work out disputes between the company and the customer without bias. In our experience, the BBB does not always fulfill that mission. While we are, of course, concerned about all complaints, those reported on the BBB website represent a tiny fraction of the more than 75,000 customers we served in that three-year time period. The BBB fails to take into account the size, scope and nature of our business. And even the BBB, on its website, states that we have resolved most issues.

Concerning Mr. Burke asking for a refund:
As our contract stipulates, Mr. Burke can simply request a refund in writing to our Review and Oversight Department. Within approximately 60 days, he will be provided a refund determination per the terms and conditions of the contract that he signed. Refunds are granted on a pro-rata basis on the work that was done on a client's case. If Mr. Burke disagrees with our refund determination, he can request reconsideration. Since the contract is subject to binding arbitration, if he is not satisfied with our refund conclusion, he can take his case to the National Arbitration Forum if he wants to.

We are sorry that Mr. Burke feels the way that he does. Our contract states and our clients are told that their participation in the process is very, very critical to JK Harris being successful with a settlement with the IRS. That means when JK Harris requests paperwork and updated financials, the client must be able to send them to us when needed and be expected to produce that information several times if necessary. In Mr. Burke's case, it is clear that he did not participate in the process. We were and still are willing to help Mr. Burke at no additional cost and resubmit an offer if he will provide us the necessary documentation. The fact that he does not want to provide us that documentation could suggest that he was not willing to participate in the process from the beginning and was not willing to freely give us the information that we needed.