Back in January of this year I talked a little about the VITA program in a post covering the free tax prep options available to taxpayers. I really like the VITA program and so I was a little disappointed to read about the TIGTA (Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.) report released last month. Every year, TIGTA does undercover visits to tax preparers with agents posing as taxpayers. The survey size is small and split even further into a few scenario groups.
This year’s survey of VITA locations was no different. 36 sites were targeted with each site being visited by a TIGTA “taxpayer” presenting one of 3 scenarios. Of the 36 sites, only 14 (39%) of the returns prepared were correct to TIGTA standards. The big problem is that the volunteers did not follow the VITA guidelines and complete and follow the input form. Besides some math errors, the survey found incorrect addresses and preparers who did not verify info from source documents and the input sheet. TIGTA also found issues with the review process because a number of the returns were not checked for accuracy as required. Also mentioned was that 97% of the preparers did not tell the “taxpayer” that while VITA prepared the return, the taxpayer is ultimately responsible for what is on the return. The big issue is that 3 of the volunteers falsified information on the return. 3 of 36 prepared a fraudulent return. What makes their actions worse is that once the IRS’s SPEC division (oversees the VITA programs) received notice of this, all three sites were closed and all volunteers were released. There was no mention of how many taxpayers no longer had access to free tax preparation.
Bottom line of the report is that the Vita programs needed to follow their own procedures and tighten up site security with background checks a suggestion.
FAQ: in 2010, 12,326 VITA sites prepared 3,070,898 returns with 87,602 volunteers. Not all volunteers prepared returns. Others acted as greeters or handled administrative functions.
Thanks to the Tax Pro Blog for the heads up.