PTIN information release concerns aired

BY PAUL BONNER
September 21, 2012

The AICPA has expressed concerns to the IRS about the Service’s public release of information of CPAs and other federal tax return preparers the IRS collects as part of its preparer tax identification number (PTIN) registration requirement.

Some of the PTIN information is subject to public release under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The IRS makes a database of all approximately 700,000 registered preparers available to anyone who requests it and pays a fee of $35. The information subject to release includes the preparer’s name, business name, business mailing address, business phone number, business website address, email address, and professional credentials.

Some private commercial enterprises have purchased the PTIN information released by the IRS and used it to create online lookup directories. These private sites are not endorsed by the IRS

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. CPAs have expressed concerns about the publication of their home address and phone number where they gave them as business contact information, and the publication of their email addresses.

The AICPA has conveyed those concerns to the IRS in “numerous” discussions last year, said Benson Goldstein, senior technical manager—taxation, in the AICPA Tax Section office in Washington. The AICPA also suggested the IRS provide an opportunity for preparers to opt out of the release of some or all of their personal and business information and that the IRS adequately inform PTIN registrants about its disclosure of the information.

In response to AICPA concerns, the IRS has made some changes to partially restrict some data being collected from PTIN holders. The IRS now permits PTIN registrants to list either a physical address or a post office box and to use any valid email address as long as the preparer regularly checks it for PTIN communications.

The IRS also provides an opportunity for registrants to update or change their information either online or on paper, with instructions and links on a “FOIA Awareness” page at its PTIN web portal. It’s not clear, however, whether or how often private listings will obtain updates from the IRS.

Paul Bonner ( pbonner@aicpa.org ) is a JofA senior editor.

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