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A classic IRS “best practice” seems to be to give everyone way too much information. At times, their purposes are suspect (do we really need a bazillion forms to do our income taxes?). Other times, their purposes might be noble but their delivery is just plain overwhelming.

Case in point: The article entitled “Tax Return Preparer Fraud”, by the IRS offices. The article is actually helpful. Unfortunately, its helpfulness is buried under a pile of other information that doesn’t need to be there.

You may read the full article about tax return fraud here.

So, I’ll break out my decoder ring and help you to approach this article and gain the usefulness you need from it.

My first complaint with this article is the title – “Tax Return Preparer Fraud” seems to cover some of the information. The problem is that the article is much, much longer than it needs to be.

Next, we read four paragraphs that describe what tax return preparer fraud is and who is responsible. Not surprisingly, tax return preparers might be subject to criminal charges but the taxpayers are the ones who have to pay if their tax preparers are fraudulent. (While I admit that makes sense, one wonders if there would be fewer fraudulent tax preparers if they were expected to ALSO pay for any shortfall if their actions were deemed criminal).

Then, we read what turns out to be the best part of the article: Helpful hints when choosing a return preparer. Good work, IRS, at keeping your taxpayers informed. But why did you bury this helpful information deep within your site so that only a certified mining engineer could uncover this gold from this quarry of data?

The next section is entitled “Criminal Investigation Statistical Information on Return Preparer Fraud”.

Just when we were thinking to ourselves “wow, this is a document from the IRS and it doesn’t contain any numbers”, along comes the statistical chart.

In class IRS form, it tells us a lot without telling us anything. In Between 2004 and 2005, there was in increase in investigations initiated. Wow, an increase of nearly 25%! At first we might wonder if people were more criminally inclined in that year.

Then we see that, between the 3 years stated, that year also had the lowest number of IRS prosecution recommendations and sentences! I don’t know what that tells you, but it tells me that someone (hint: someone at the IRS!) wanted to LOOK busy because the boss was probably around.

Hey, I’m all for honesty and full legal compliance. I’m against what appears to be excessive spending when it’s not necessary. Oh, and I’m also a little disturbed that these criminals get 18 months of electronic monitoring while their victims are likely spending years trying to repay and financially recover from their preparer’s fraud.

Lastly, we have a list of criminal and civil actions that the IRS has taken. Some might call this the “dirty laundry” list… I like to call it the “Look busy! The taxpayers are watching” list. It’s interesting reading, certainly, but not really helpful to taxpayers.

If I were writing this article, what would I do? I would break the content into 2 articles and put the actual helpful information into its own article because people should read it and understand the consequences of tax fraud.

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