NYSSCPA Grapples With H&R Block Over Ad Campaign

The New York State Society of CPAs (NYSSCPA) is not satisfied with H&R Block's current advertising campaign regarding the filing of complex tax returns. P. Gerard Sokolski, NYSSCPA president, believes that the ads are misleading and detrimental to consumers.

According to Mr. Sokolski, H&R Block claims that it prepares more complex tax returns than any CPA firm in America. When challenged, Steven A. Christianson, H&R Block Assistant Vice President, said that they define "complex" as individual returns with schedules. He added that the qualification "makes it clear that H&R Block does not purport to prepare tax returns that are more complex than the tax returns prepared by CPA firms."

"We feel strongly that the H&R Block ads are deceptive and misleading," Mr. Sokolski said. "Although they have qualified their definition of complex, that qualification is not readily apparent on the on-screen images of the television ads. Although there is a text phrase on the ad with the disclaimer, it is hardly noticeable. It is simply not on the screen long enough or conspicuously enough for consumers to grasp the meaning of it."

The NYSSCPA represents nearly 30,000 CPAs throughout New York State in public practice, industry, government and education. "We are very concerned about consumers being misled and plan to bring this ad campaign to the attention of the Attorney General in New York," Mr. Sokolski said.

In response to another ad in this campaign, H&R Block last week was barred by a federal judge from using misleading phrases to advertise its "Rapid Refund" loan program. U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson in Norfolk ruled that H&R Block "acted maliciously, willfully and in bad faith" when it persisted in advertising its year 2000 no additional charge, refund anticipation loan program (NACRAL). The case was brought after H&R Block violated a consent order preventing the company from advertising its NACRAL program unless Block's advertising clearly disclosed the difference between loans and refunds.

In a related story, H&R Block was recently fined over $500,000 for deceptive advertising. The ads in question in this case had to do with the company's rapid refund program.

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