Having lived in several cities besides New York, including a four-year stint in Colorado, one of the first things that struck me as a naïve 18-year old was how cheesy the TV and radio commercials were in those secondary and even tertiary markets.

During my 18 months in Tucson, there was actually a used car pitchman with the moniker "Honest Ira" who aired TV spots at 1 a.m. inviting customers down to his lot with the lure of free coffee and doughnuts.

Since then, I've probably paid more attention to ads than listened to the programs especially during the morning and evening drive-times.

Which brings me to the subject de jour, last week's Federal Trade Commission shutdown of American Tax Relief, the California outfit that flooded the airwaves with promises of helping delinquent taxpayers negotiate settlements with the IRS for a fraction what they owe.

Trust me, their ads were becoming far more annoying, not to mention, more frequent, than those of "Honest Ira." And, according to the FTC, they carried an equal degree of credibility.

The company also boasted via TV radio and Internet ads that it could remove tax liens and stop wage garnishments, bank and tax levies, property seizures, and of course, those pesky "unbearable monthly payments."

Allegedly the company swindled consumers out of roughly $60 million, this despite the fact its license was suspended in California last year for failure to pay its own taxes.

Nevertheless that didn't prevent them from telling listeners that the IRS was currently accepting a fraction of back taxes for those who qualify for the program, thereby giving them a one-time opportunity to settle outstanding debt once and for all.

Problem is someone forgot to tell the IRS of this program, which, according to the service, does not exist.

The cold reality was that few customers could actually qualify for the tax relief programs, and instead were steered into installment payment plans, which sadly still required paying the full amount owed.

Over the years, I've had some shall we say, "tax discrepancies" on both a state and federal level. I never got a settlement from either, but I was able to negotiate a payment plan that was both reasonable and affordable.

Perhaps it was because I went straight to the source.

Or it could be that I had heard far too many cheesy commercials in too many venues to be nothing less than skeptical.

If nothing else, the FTC has made my daily commute somewhat more tolerable. Now if they can just do something about those "you'll be able to pay off your mortgage in two years" spots.


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