During tax season, take extra precautions to protect your identity and beware of “instant” tax refunds.
With the ease of filing tax returns online, thieves may try to use your Social Security number to file and obtain a tax refund in your name. You may not realize you’re a victim until you try to file your own taxes and find out they have already been filed.
To protect yourself, guard your personal information. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse. Only use reputable businesses or trusted individuals to assist in filing your tax return.
Be very skeptical of anyone who asks for your personal information such as your name, Social Security number, and date of birth in exchange for offering you a “special tax refund” through a “special IRS program.” This may be a ploy to obtain your personal information.
If you are using a paid tax preparation service, ask for detailed information about all applicable fees before your return is prepared. Ask for a complete breakdown of the costs and the purpose of each charge. Make sure to explore free tax preparation programs and online self-filing options before you hire a paid tax preparation service. If you are going to hire a paid tax preparation service, research the reputation of the business with the Ohio Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau.
Be wary of offers for fast-cash refunds or instant refunds. An “instant refund” may be a costly loan based on your expected tax return. It also could be a refund anticipation check — a temporary account in which your refund will be deposited and from which preparation fees and other costs will be deducted. Although refund anticipation loans or checks may allow you to receive your refund money a few days early, they may not be worth the high cost.
To avoid costly loans and reduce the risk of identity theft, file your own tax returns electronically free of charge and have the refund directly deposited in a bank account.
You also may be eligible for free tax preparation help, such as through the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program, which offers free tax help to low-to-moderate income consumers. Learn more on the IRS website
If you believe you have been affected by a tax scam or to file a complaint about a tax service, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov