From the AICPA

WASHINGTON, Sept. 24, 2012 — Many AICPA members have received e-mails from companies that are publishing and promoting a list of persons who have registered with the IRS for a preparer tax identification number (PTIN).  These companies have purchased the IRS’s PTIN list, which is permitted under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Last year, the AICPA had numerous conversations with IRS staff questioning the appropriateness of the specific data items that the IRS released, such as mailing addresses, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers. The AICPA also suggested that the IRS: (1) provide an opportunity for preparers to opt out of the release of some or all of the personal and business information, and (2) adequately communicate with PTIN registrants about the disclosure of their information.

The IRS did re-visit its FOIA releases and made some changes to partially restrict some of the data being collected from PTIN holders to protect their privacy.

First, the IRS now permits tax return preparers to list either a physical address or a P.O. box as the “business address” when registering or renewing their PTIN.

Second, any valid e-mail address can be provided to the IRS as long as the PTIN holder regularly checks the e-mail address for PTIN communications.

These changes provide the PTIN holder with the ability to stop the release (under FOIA) of a tax return preparer’s home address or of an email address that the preparer does not want made public.

The current directories of PTIN holders are private, commercially oriented ventures and are not endorsed by the IRS. The IRS does have plans to set up some type of “look-up” data base of PTIN holders, tentatively scheduled for opening sometime after the close of the upcoming tax season in spring 2013.

Because much of the PTIN list and data is publicly available under FOIA, legal action by the IRS or others is unlikely. Nevertheless, the AICPA has raised questions with the IRS about the possible misuse of, or confusion about, the use of the PTIN data. The IRS is reviewing the matter and is considering appropriate action.

The AICPA and the MACPA will keep members informed about any further discussions with the IRS, as well as any follow-up actions the IRS decides to take in reaction to these private PTIN directories.

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