FTC shuts down TV ‘tax relief’ outfit

Posted Oct. 6, 2010 at 12:45 p.m.

By Gregory Karp | American Tax Relief LLC, which claims in TV ads that it can reduce your tax debt, has been shut down after bilking consumers nationwide out of more than $60 million, the Federal Trade Commission alleged Wednesday.

“For people having a tough time paying their taxes, the last thing they need is to lose more money to a fraud,” said David C. Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

American Tax Relief of Beverly Hills, Calif., claims in its advertisements that it can settle consumers’ delinquent federal and state taxes for a fraction of the amount they owe. The company also falsely claims it can remove tax liens and stop wage garnishments, bank and tax levies, property seizures and “unbearable monthly payments,” according to the FTC.

The company charges upfront fees of $3,200 to $25,000 for the promised “relief services,” the FTC said.

“In reality, very few of the company’s customers qualify for the promised tax relief programs,” the FTC said.

The Internal Revenue Service has programs to help indebted taxpayers, but very few qualify for paying pennies on the dollar, Vladeck said.

American Tax Relief did not return money to customers who did not qualify for IRS programs, he said. The lengthy delays by American Tax Relief resulted in more fees and interest penalties being applied to the taxpayers’ debts, he said.

Officials from American Tax Relief could not immediately be reached for comment. The company’s Web site was also shut down, replaced by a message about the FTC’s lawsuit and the restraining order issued by an Illinois federal judge in Chicago that prohibits the company from operating.

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