AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Fraud and excessive fees: Consumer watchdog calls for oversight of Georgia's tax preparers

You may think the man or woman preparing your taxes is a trained professional, but a consumer advocate says there's no guarantee in Georgia.

Anyone can hang a shingle with no training or professional standards and start preparing taxes -- even convicted criminals.

"It's absolutely crazy," said Liz Coyle, executive director of Georgia Watch, which issued a new report out Tuesday warning taxpayers of problems in the unregulated industry.

The group went undercover and visited 20 tax preparers in southwest Atlanta last tax season. All of them had some sort of problem with the return. None had a Certified Public Accountant on staff.

The group said errors, fraud and excessive fees are problems across the industry. It encourages Georgia leaders to reform the system and require licensing and training for tax preparers.

The report comes as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News exposed allegations of fraud and inflated refunds of Hapeville tax preparer Ruth Barr. Barr, a Hapeville city councilwoman, had thousands of clients -- including many public safety workers -- who may have to pay back taxes and penalties.

State revenue agents are investigating Barr after questions by reporters raised concerns about possible fraud and bogus deductions on returns prepared by Barr and her company -- B&B Accounting and Tax Services.

A citizen's group in Hapeville has called for Barr to step down or be removed from office, but she has declined.

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About the Author

Brad Schrade is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter on the AJC’s investigative team.