NYS top cop Letitia James announces $141 million dollar settlement
*Disclosure: Andrew Harris worked for Intuit as a Turbo Tax software sales hawk in a Richmond, Virginia Best Buy store in the year 2000. The job was only during tax season, before it was totally cool to file your taxes online. People flocked to stores like Best Buy to purchase boxed tax software in CD form, the price was under $20.
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced a record multistate agreement with the owner of TurboTax, Intuit Inc. (Intuit), for deceiving millions of low-income Americans into paying for tax services that should have been free. As a result of Attorney General James’ agreement, Intuit will pay $141 million in restitution to millions of consumers across the nation who were unfairly charged. In addition, Intuit must suspend TurboTax’s “free, free, free” ad campaign that lured customers with promises of free tax preparation services, only to deceive them into paying. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have signed onto the agreement. New York will receive more than $5.4 million for more than 176,000 New Yorkers who were tricked into paying to file their federal tax return.
“Intuit cheated millions of low-income Americans out of free tax filing services they were entitled to,” said Attorney General James. “For years, Intuit misled the most vulnerable among us to make a profit. Today, every state in the nation is holding Intuit accountable for scamming millions of taxpayers, and we’re putting millions of dollars back into the pockets of impacted Americans. This agreement should serve as a reminder to companies large and small that engaging in these deceptive marketing ploys is illegal. New Yorkers can count on my office to protect their wallets from white-collar scammers.”
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) opened an investigation into Intuit after ProPublica reported that the company was using deceptive digital tactics to steer low-income consumers toward its commercial products and away from federally-supported free tax services.
Intuit offered two free versions of TurboTax. One was through its participation in the IRS Free File Program, a public-private partnership with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which allows taxpayers earning roughly $34,000 and members of the military to file their taxes for free. In exchange for participating in the program, the IRS agreed not to compete with Intuit and other tax-prep companies by providing its own electronic tax preparation and filing services to American taxpayers.
In addition, Intuit offers a commercial product called “TurboTax Free Edition,” which is only free for taxpayers with “simple returns” as defined by Intuit. In recent years, TurboTax marketed this “freemium” product aggressively, including through ad campaigns where “free” is the most prominent or sometimes the only selling point. In some ads, the company repeated the word “free” dozens of times in as short as 30 seconds. However, the TurboTax “freemium” product is only free for approximately one-third of US taxpayers. In contrast, the IRS Free File products were free for 70 percent of taxpayers.