Advocacy group warns of potential for information misuse in free tax preparation programs

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Senior citizens and individuals with low- to moderate-income have options to help them get their taxes prepared and done on time, however, they should be aware of the dangers of free services.

One of those is the American Association of Retired Persons’ (AARP) Tax-Aide program, which will provide assistance in filling out the paperwork, even for individuals who are not AARP members. The assistance is available through April 15, and was first available this year on Feb. 1.

On Feb. 10, the 60 Plus Association released a statement warning about potential issues in the Tax-Aide program and warning senior citizens and other participants to be vigilant about how their information is used.

“There are some very serious red flags regarding the AARP’s tax program, and America’s seniors should be extremely cautious when considering whether or not to participate,” James Martin, founder and chairman of the American Association of Senior Citizens, told Washington D.C. Business Daily. “Volunteers within the program itself have raised significant data and privacy concerns and seniors should be aware of these issues as they make decisions regarding their tax filings.”

The AARP Tax-Aide program has worked with more than 68 million taxpayers over the past 50 years, but recently, volunteers who have left the program have voiced concerns that AARP may be selling taxpayers’ information to corporate partners or advertisers without that individual’s explicit knowledge and consent. According to 60 Plus Association, the Tax-Aide policies give AARP the ability to access full tax returns and sensitive information, and allow that information to be sold to corporations and advertisers.

For example, 60 Plus Association notes that the AARP receives corporate royalties of almost $1 billion, and almost $700 million alone from UnitedHealth, for which the AARP sells Medigap plans.

It’s important to ensure that they are comfortable with how their information is collected and might be used, warns the 60 Plus Association.

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