In Your Corner: Is Tax Company Playing Fair?

By Ryan Elijah

February 4, 2011 Updated Feb 4, 2011 at 9:15 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind., (Indiana's Newscenter)---Most W-2's had barely arrived yet we had a number of similar complaints from customers of this Instant Tax Service branch on South Calhoun. Since we couldn't get an answer to our phone calls, we decided to just drop in this week.

As I walked in several customers approached me with similar complaints, one person even said they thought about calling the police. Ciera Bledsoe went for a quick estimate and was told her return would be $200. Feeling that was too high, she went to another company only to be told they received an IRS message that Ciera filed a fraudulent return.

She returned to Instant Tax and they did her return, but took nearly $600 out of her refunds.

"They don't tell you about the fees upfront, there's nothing on their paperwork. I felt like they was taking from my baby", said Ciera.

We asked the manager about the many complaints similar to Ciera's, minutes later we got a call from the company's CEO, Fez Ogbazion. He addressed our questions openly. He told us they did have a server crash causing problems with the debit card used with refunds. He also stressed that many customers come in wanting a fast refund loan, but don't realize the high cost of that loan.

"They sign a contract that has the fees and charges. I think many people don't realize exactly what comes with the loan, these loans are expensive", said Fez Ogbazion, CEO of Instant Tax.

He said for many customers the loans are a better option than the alternative of not being able to pay vital bills.
Ogbazion's Dayton's based company has grown rapidly since 2004, with nearly 1000 branches. There's only one franchise in Fort Wayne. They have an "F" Rating with the local BBB, but a B+ nationally despite complaints about sales representation issues and contracts.

Ciera says there are countless complaints just like hers. We talked with Reverend Michael Latham, who was concerned that so many in the south side neighborhood felt taken.

"it's expensive to be poor. It seems they're taking money that people need, poor people are more vulnerable, because they need the money so bad", said Reverend Michael Latham of Renaissance Baptist Church.

The CEO told us Ciera took out a 299 dollar loan last week, she said, she never requested a loan, and while they did credit her account, an additional amount was taken from her Federal return, meaning her returns cost over $500.

"I feel that someone needs to speak up, people think they can't do anything, but they can", said Bledsoe.

Reverend Latham planned to also speak to the company about making it clear to customers what they're paying.

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