Imagine filing your taxes only to learn that someone stole your identity, filed your tax return, and received a refund in your name. Unfortunately, this scenario may be a reality for many consumers this tax season.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, 43 percent of identity theft complaints nationwide are tax-related. To fight back against fraud, the Federal Trade Commission has designated the week of Jan. 13–17 as National Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week.
Reports to the Attorney General’s Office suggest that Ohioans continue to be affected by tax-related identity theft. A Trumbull County consumer attempted to file taxes online, only to find that someone had obtained his Social Security number and received a tax refund from the IRS in his name. A Lorain County consumer reported a similar situation and stated the IRS could not process her $3,500 refund since the refund was already issued.
You can protect yourself from tax-related identity theft in a number of ways. If you plan to use a tax preparation service, research the reputation of the business by contacting the Ohio Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau. In some cases, fraudsters pose as legitimate tax preparers in order to obtain your personal information — and possibly your refund. They may use your personal information to route your refund into their personal bank account. Beware of “tax preparers” who suggest issuing your refund on a prepaid credit card. Once your refund is loaded on the card, the “preparer” could use the card number to steal your refund.
You can also reduce your risk of tax-related identity theft by filing your taxes early. Each day you wait to file your taxes, is one day more that someone has to perpetrate identity theft. Employers are required to provide you with your W-2 by Jan. 31, 2014. Be sure to keep track of your mail around the time that W-2 forms are distributed to ensure that your W-2 (or any other tax-related document) has not been taken out of your mailbox. You may want to have your W-2 provided to you electronically if your employer allows that option.
In addition to protecting your identity, avoid 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.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has also taken complaints about scammers claiming a consumer owes taxes. They may pose as an IRS representative, an “officer,” or other official-sounding professional in an attempt to receive payment from unsuspecting consumers.
Consumers who have received unwanted text messages or believe they are a victim of identity theft should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov
or by calling 800-282-0515.