City cites tax preparers in undercover investigations

The Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection has been heading up undercover investigations on tax preparers since January.
February 10, 2014 3:27:48 PM PST
The Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection has been heading up undercover investigations on tax preparers since January.

Chicago Revenue Investigator John Gammal made a surprise visit at tax preparer stores on Friday. The ABC7 I-Team was with him as he asked one employee about the store's license.

"It would be a blue and white license," John Gammal said.

"Well, our manager is not here right now," the employee said.

"Sure, it should still be here though," Gammal said.

At Ready Income Tax in the North Austin neighborhood, an employee got the owner on the phone. When asked if the owner wanted to talk to ABC 7 Eyewitness News I-Team reporter Jason Knowles, the employee suggest Knowles- and his camera- leave.

"No, everything is being up dated right now and, you can, like, leave the office right now with the cameras. But everything is being updated as we speak."

Gammal cited the business for not providing a required city Consumer Bill of Rights to customers and failing to disclose pricing upfront during a recent undercover visit.

"We are concerned that a customer came in here and did not receive the full information of their process and their services," Gammal said.

Ready Income Tax was also cited for not having a license to operate. Without a license, there's no record of the business. That means if there's a problem with a customer's taxes and the company's left town, that customer would have little to no recourse.

"I am glad you guys came in because you just saved me a big problem," Candice Tate said.

At Ready Refunds in the Rogers Park neighborhood, Gammal found the same two violations. Once again, people who say they are employees tell the I-Team that the owner isn't available.

"He has it," the employee said. "It's in his folders."

The city shut down both stores and slapped orange stickers on the front doors. Both re-opened Monday after obtaining city licenses.

They are owned by the same person, according to the city, and that owner could be fined thousands of dollars if found in violation by a court.

In January, the city handed out almost 200 similar citations to other tax preparers. Anyone concerned about having used one of these tax preparers should call 311, officials said.

"It's easy money for them. They set up a storefront, get no business license, don't disclose anything to unsuspecting consumers," Maria Guerra Lapacek, commissioner of business affairs and consumer protection, said. "People who have no idea what they are walking into and sign forms that leave them with no money or no tax return."

Chicagoans looking for a tax preparer should make sure they get the city's Consumer Bill of Rights and know the cost before starting the process. Those who make less than $50,000 a year may qualify for free tax service in the city.

Find out if that's the case- and get other tax tips- at taxprepchicago.org.


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