CPAs strike back against more deceptive tax ads

Stop While CPAs from coast to coast have been burning the midnight (and weekend) oil during tax season, the American Institute of CPAs and state CPA societies have been busy watching their backs.

We told you earlier of the profession's successful battle against H&R Block's misleading ads. Now comes word from the AICPA of more advertising-related activities designed to protect the CPA profession's good name.

Janice Maiman, the AICPA's vice president of communications and media channels, recently sent the following note to state CPA societies throughout the country. I am reprinting it here with her permission. I thought you'd be interested in how your professional associations are working on your behalf.

"As we communicated to you on Feb. 3, H&R Block earlier this year engaged in advertising promoting its tax services at the expense of the CPA profession and firms. The AICPA, in turn, sent a letter to Mr. Russ Smyth, CEO, asking that H&R Block discontinue those placements immediately and, as we reported back to you, they did.

"We also heard from some of our members that Jackson Hewitt had been placing some CPA-derogatory print ads. Again, Barry (Melancon, AICPA president) wrote a letter asking for an immediate stop to those placements. Jackson Hewitt responded that they were not national ads but local ads, which had been placed erroneously by local franchisees, and that (the company) would alert (its) offices to discontinue those placements.

"During the past few days, we have heard from a number of you and from some of our members again, informing us that you heard more H&R Block advertising with the phrase “certified tax professionals” used in some of the ads. We have investigated the usage of the term. According to an executive at the H&R Block Tax Institute, the company defines their “certified tax professionals” as the following: CPAs, tax attorneys, IRS enrolled agents and tax specialty actuaries. Our research to date has not found this usage to violate accountancy laws and regulations. Moreover, the executive at H&R Block Tax Institute, in response to an inquiry, recommended that consumers and businesses looking for a tax professional go to, and the H&R Block Web site for more information and questions to ask while conducting a search.

"We are also evaluating the H&R Block ad phrase: 'We found errors on four out of five returns prepared by others.' (To clarify: This ad does not specifically mention CPAs.) Even though this probably does not rise to the level of an accountancy law issue, firms and individuals who wish to express their concerns could do so via the usual complaint channels. These include the following: state consumer protection offices, state attorneys general offices, the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau.

"As always, the AICPA – like state CPA societies – is here to protect and enhance the reputation of the CPA profession. We deeply appreciate your feedback concerning tax season advertising. Looking ahead, we plan to formulate strategies and tactics to support both the states and our collective members during the 2010 tax season (and beyond). As we proceed with development, we will reach out to you for your valuable participation at the local level so that we are in an optimal position to communicate the value of the CPA tax professional."

Thanks, Janice. CPAs everywhere appreciate the AICPA's efforts.

If you hear or see any ads that you believe are misleading or degrading to CPAs, let us know so that we can investigate.


Bill Sheridan