Preparers’ reactions range from annoyance over spam to concern over online privacy as they’ve learned that the IRS is publicly releasing some of the information it collects as part of its Preparer Tax Identification Number registration.
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Some PTIN information is subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act, and the IRS makes a database of all approximately 700,000 registered preparers available to anyone who requests it and pays a fee of $35.
Concern among preparers surfaced last summer as commercial interests began using PTIN information to set up their own databases that some preparers say have been designed to resemble the old IRS site or that try to get preparers to pay a fee to “upgrade” their posted information.
According to reports, the American Institute of CPAs has expressed concerns to the IRS about the information release. Many or most preparers were unaware of the possibility when they applied for a PTIN that their data would be publicly released, although the IRS has said from the beginning of the PTIN requirement that it plans eventually to publish such an online database of its own.
‘Angry Tax Preparers’
Preparers on several LinkedIn discussion boards, including the board for the National Association of Tax Professionals with the thread name “IRS Responds to Angry Tax Preparers,” are also reporting floods of e-mailed continuing education-related spam. Other preparers question why the IRS has not proceeded with a promised public-awareness campaign to educate the public about checking preparers’ credentials with an IRS database -- a delay that one preparer said allowed private enterprise databases “a big head start in reaching the public” with preparer verification information.
Some preparers said that they didn’t mind their information being released, but preparers also reported wide variation in the information available and released, from simple names and addresses to names, addresses (both business and home), phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
CPA David Bybee of Baybe and Co. in Kaysville, Utah, confirms on LinkedIn that the IRS has made changes to safeguard some data being collected from PTIN holders. Among the IRS responses reported was permitting PTIN registrants to list either a physical address or a Post Office box, and to use any valid e-mail address as long as the preparer regularly checks it for PTIN communications. (One preparer also suggested listing a separate and otherwise unused e-mail address to receive the spam.)
What you can do
According to the IRS page entitled “FOIA Awareness for PTIN Holders,” information subject to release includes name; business name, Web site and mailing address, and phone number; e-mail address; and professional credentials. The IRS has also changed the “Permanent Mailing Address” box on the PTIN application to “Personal Mailing Address” -- which clarifies that the information is personal and exempt from public disclosure under FOIA rules.
“If you used your Personal Mailing Address as your Business Mailing Address or used a street address when you would have preferred to provide a P.O Box as your Business Mailing Address, you may want to update your contact information,” the page reads. “This information is not exempt from disclosure under FOIA rules and it will be released even if it is the same as your Personal Mailing Address.”
Instructions follow on the page for updating PTIN account information either online or on paper. Regarding spam and other unwanted solicitations, however, the service only offers a link to the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.