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The internet is saturated with offers to help you solve your tax trouble. Every lawyer, acocuntant, insolvency trustee, ex-CRA employee, or just plain Joe are trying to grab a piece of the tax debt pie.

Knowing who to trust, and who to choose, is not easy. To complicate the situation, the online DIY help pages are offering tax trouble advice throuhg interactive chats.

Out of sheer curiosity, we took a question about a tax problem to Justanswer.com. Here’s what happened.

The site said there were there are 9 experts waiting to answer our question. Note the use of the word expert. Curous to see if what type of expert we would get, we typed in this question:

My accountant made false claims on my tax return in 2007 and now CRA audited me for 5 years and is claiming back all my refunds. What rights do I have against the CRA who is threatening to take my house and bank account?

Immediately we got a response saying that Debra Thal, Lawyer and “Verified Expert” was online and ready to answer the question, if we posted a good faith deposit of $33 (plus HST) on a credit card now. If we weren’t happy with the answer we could get the money back (although we haven’t fully read the fine print on that.)

Here’s what I saw about Debra Thal.

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It says she’s a lawyer, but how do I really know? I can check her out on the Law Society listing and see if she has a license. But the site suggests that Debra Thal is a username. Read online pseudonym. And the other questions she recently answered are about all kinds of general legal stuff. Nothing about tax. I’m wondering how/where she gained her qualifications as a Verified Expert on tax.

Not comfortable, I tried the same question again, on a different mobile device. This time I got a different Tax Expert:

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Hartley (no last name, so how could I check out his credentials?) is a Chartered Accountant. So now I have an accountant presuming to advise on questions which, given that they involve seizure of property (see s. 225 of the ITA) and false claims on a tax return ( see: s.163(2) of the ITA – penalties for misrepresentation and third party civil liability) are clearly legal.

Does Hartley the Chartered Accountant also have a license to practice law? Or does he run a bait and switch with the pseudononymous Debra Thal wherein they cover for each other. She does tax returns and he gives legal advice? Or do CAs even do tax returns?

Maybe the last question is a topic for another time. Anyway…

The foregoing brief foray into the world of internet tax problem solvers uncovers these disturbing thoughts:

Are people really stupid enough to spill their guts and pay for advice from someone who is no more than an internet photo or a “username”? Maybe it works for internet sex, but even there, if you engage, they have your credit card number on file. So it’s a hop, skip and a jump for the authorities to track you down and charge you with pornography, tax evasion, or anything else that seems relevant.
2. As long as you’re rated on JustAnswer.com, apparently you are automatically a Verified Expert, on whatever topic the site synapses connect you into.

3. What makes a lawyer and a Chartered Accountant interchangeably qualified to provide advice on a tax matter that has legal implications?

I’m not brave enough to trust my details to these guys. So I didn’t find out what wisdom Debra Thal and Hartley had to share. Maybe it would have been an identical answer. Maybe Debra and Hartley are two sides of the same all-knowing internet Janus. A lawyer generalist espousing tax and an accountant practicing law.

Sounds illegal. Which makes the tax act infractions presented in my question above pale by comparison.

And yet people trust this stuff because the internet tells them so.

Can I help you buy the CN Tower???