Judge shuts down Charlotte tax preparation company

A Wake County judge has issued a temporary restraining order to shut down a Charlotte tax preparation company, which the N.C. Attorney General’s office claims charged exorbitant fees and misled customers about refund anticipation loans.

The order targets three Instant Tax Service locations, at 2712 Freedom Drive and 1520 W. Boulevard Suite J Charlotte, and 316 E. Franklin Blvd. in Gastonia.

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a statement that the company charged fees of $700 to $800 for simple tax returns without disclosing the fees. Such returns cost around $200 at other national tax preparers, Cooper said.

Cooper also said the company filed returns for customers without their permission, after the customers brought in a recent paystub to see if they could receive loans against their anticipated refunds. “Filing someone’s taxes without their permission is not only wrong, but it’s against the law,” Cooper said.

Instant Tax Service owner Eden Kidane could not immediately be reached for comment by phone or email. The company advertised in Charlotte on the radio and on television. That’s where Charlotte resident Artessia Freeman said she saw that she could be eligible for a loan of up to $1,000 against an anticipated refund. According to a sworn affidavit, she brought a pay stub to the Instant Tax Service on Freedom Drive to see if she could get a loan.

A man identified only as “Antez” convinced her to sign some forms, Freeman said in the affidavit, and then told her he could give her a loan for $100. She took the check, although no time frame for repayment was given. “He never mentioned anything about filing my taxes,” Freeman said.

After hearing that other customers had their taxes filed without their permission by Instant Tax Service, Freeman said she grew concerned and contacted the Internal Revenue Service. She learned that state and local tax returns had been filed for her, Freeman said, and she was owed a $4,129 federal refund.

When she contacted Instant Tax Service, Freeman said they wouldn’t give her copies of her tax returns. They gave her $3,230.05, or $895.95 less than the federal refund. Minus the $100 loan she owed, Freeman said she believes the company charged her nearly $800 for a simple tax return. “I never gave them permission to file my tax returns,” Freeman said in the affidavit. “If they had told me they were charging me $798.95 to do my taxes, I would have declined.”

In total, the Attorney General’s office received 136 complaints about the business, and the Charlotte Better Business Bureau said the business has received more than 500 complaints this tax season.

Cooper is seeking a permanent ban on the company to prevent them from preparing taxes and to order them to pay consumers refunds.