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FTC Says TurboTax’s Free, Free, Free Ads Were False, False, False

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission issued an Opinion and Final Order against Intuit Inc., the maker of TurboTax, the most popular brand of tax preparation software, saying it had engaged in deceptive advertising practices. It had accused the company of running ads for free tax prep services for years but it appears the majority of those who signed up were not eligible for those free services. [See complaint.]

In some ads, like the one below, the word “free” is mentioned perhaps 20 times in a 30-second commercial.


The virtually unreadable fine print says that the free version is for simple returns only.

Under the FTC’s final order, Intuit has to make disclosures abundantly clear in its advertising about the limitation of their free edition.


The Commission’s Final Order prohibits Intuit from advertising or marketing that any good or service is free unless it is free for all consumers or it discloses clearly and conspicuously and in close proximity to the “free” claim the percentage of taxpayers or consumers that qualify for the free product or service. Alternatively, if the good or service is not free for a majority of consumers, it could disclose that a majority of consumers do not qualify. [Emphasis added]

Sure enough, last week Intuit began running new TV ads for TurboTax Free that unambiguously say that only about 37-percent of people will qualify to use the program free.

Whether the new ad is satisfactory to the FTC is for them to say, but it is refreshing to literally hear a company’s disclaimer rather than having to catch it in a too-quick and too-small-to-read footnote.

Since this was an internal administrative proceeding where the FTC cannot assess financial penalties, Intuit got off easy. Nonetheless, they have appealed the decision to court.

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Walgreens.com Overcharged on Sales Tax in MA

Just before the holidays, MrConsumer spotted a bargain on Royal Dansk butter cookies at Walgreens.com and ordered 10 of them for pickup at his local Walgreens just outside of Boston.

In the ordering process, he noticed that inexplicably he was going to be charged $1.79 in sales tax on them.

Walgreens tax

Food in Massachusetts is not subject to sales tax except in restaurants by law.


sales tax rule in MA

So before finalizing the order, he called the Walgreens 800 number to see if they could adjust the total to the correct amount. They could not, but said to call back after making the pickup and they would provide a credit.

Upon pickup the next day, I asked the store manager to correct the bill but he could not because it was an online order. Then I called online customer service again and asked for the credit as I had been promised the day before. “Oh, we don’t give back sales tax” was the customer service person’s response. After she started saying that they base sales tax on where the company is located — in Illinois — a total misunderstanding and misrepresentation of how sales tax works, I asked for a supervisor. All that representative was able to do was fill out a form to be sent to the Walgreens tax people for their review.

Of course, MrConsumer’s long-held belief is if a company was going to overcharge anyone, they would never choose him alone to do it to.

So I went back to the Walgreens website to try to figure out the extent of the tax overcharging in Massachusetts. I put some test purchases of various nontaxable items in my cart to see if tax would be charged. Here’s one of the them.


Walgreens taxed cookies and crackersConsumer World Photo Illustration

Sure enough, it appears for some unknown period of time Walgreens.com had been charging a 7-percent sales tax on cookies and crackers here wrongfully. And that isn’t even the right sales tax rate in Massachusetts. We pay 6.25-percent on taxable sales, while 7-percent is the meals tax rate.

After a total of four or five unsatisfying contacts with Walgreens’ 800 number and their online customer service department, four days after placing the order, they corrected the website. And the day after that, I was issued a $1.79 refund for the tax overcharge and a $50 e-gift card for bringing the matter to their attention.

tax refund

Consumer World asked Walgreens PR folks how such a taxation mistake could happen, how long they have been overcharging customers, how much money was collected, and what they were going to do to refund the overcharges. They first said that the problem was limited just to that one brand of butter cookies. But after suggesting they were minimizing the extent of the issue, further research they did revealed the problem was much broader affecting baked snack foods like Twinkies, as well as all cookies and crackers.

In a conference call with two Walgreens officials in December, the company admitted the problem was of their own doing and not of an outside contactor. They explained that they erroneously categorized certain snack foods as bakery items which they thought were taxable.

When pressed to answer the rest of our questions, they later said that they could not determine how long the overcharging had been going on, and due to system limitations, they could not make automatic refunds.

The company also provided this emailed statement which said in relevant part:

If customers believe they have been impacted and now owed a sales tax refund, please contact 877-250-5823 for assistance. We ask that impacted customers who call this number have on hand the order number found on their receipt to assist with the query. Walgreens does not profit off sales tax errors of this kind, as all tax collected is turned over to the state and local taxing authorities.

Consumer World is pleased to see that Walgreens at least fessed up to the problem and corrected it relatively quickly after our contact. We’re disappointed they can’t make automatic refunds since they already have two-years-worth of receipts right on their website. Shoppers should not have to scrutinize and recalculate the tax on every sales slip to figure out if they have been overcharged.

This is not the first time Walgreens has been accused of overcharging on sales tax. They were sued or called out for improperly charging tax on toilet paper in Pennsylvania last year, on COVID test kits in New York in 2022, on milk in Massachusetts in 2019, and on bottled water and certain unsweetened beverages in several Illinois areas in 2015 and 2017.

Many retailers have been accused of overcharging on sales tax over the years, so getting this bit of retail law correct has been a challenge for stores because of the complexity and varying nature of state and local rules.

None of that, however, excuses stores for not getting it right.

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Don’t Let the Pill Bottle Quantity Fool You

When you see the number of pills in a bottle, along with the strength, you reasonably assume that is what will be inside. So a bottle of 100 aspirin that says 325 milligrams should be just that.

Last year we showed you examples of calcium supplements that didn’t meet that expectation. Now we turn to a similar issue with with these CVS melatonin gummies.

CVS Melatonin Gummies

Here the label clearly says there are 60 gummies in the bottle and it notes the strength as 10 mg. in two places on the front label.


CVS back of label

The dosing instructions on the back say you have to take two gummies in order to get the 10 mg. promised on the front of the label. So in essence, if you thought this bottle would last you two months, it will only be good for one month.

Another CVS melatonin gummy product makes a slightly different representation on the front saying this product is 10 mg. per serving. While a slight improvement, shoppers still could be easily misled.

10 mg per serving

What do you think… shouldn’t the strength of the medication displayed on the front of the bottle be what you get in each pill, capsule, or gummy inside?

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