COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Tax season can be just as busy for thieves as it is for accountants. The Ohio Attorney General, AARP and U.S. Postal Service are all warning taxpayers to keep a close watch on the sensitive information used this time of year.
“For a lot of Ohioans that are living paycheck to paycheck, having your refund stolen when you’re counting on it… it means the difference between being able to keep your job or not, being able to keep the car on the road, being able to maybe get a medical procedure done,” said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.
Yost called identity theft during tax season a growing problem. He issued the following tips to avoid falling victim to fraudsters:
- File your taxes as soon as possible: Tax identity theft generally occurs when someone steals your personal information to file a tax return and fraudulently obtain your refund. The sooner you file, the less likely it is that someone can file on your behalf.
- Choose a reputable tax preparer: If you use a tax preparer, make sure they have the credentials you’re looking for by visiting the IRS’ Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers or by confirming a Certified Public Accountant’s credentials. Before having your tax return prepared, ask about all associated fees. Research a business with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau.
- Protect your personal information: If you file your taxes online, make sure to use a secure internet connection. If you file by mail, take your completed return directly to the post office. Keep sensitive documents in a secure place. Shred any unneeded documents that contain your Social Security number or other sensitive information.
- Consider the costs of any “fast” refunds: Offers for instant or “fast” refunds may be costly refund anticipation loans or refund anticipation checks. These products may involve substantial fees. Avoiding a refund anticipation loan may save you money without diminishing the amount of your refund. When filing your taxes electronically, you can have any refund directly deposited into your bank account, typically within a few weeks.
- Use any refund wisely: Be an informed consumer and smart shopper by spending any refund wisely or saving it for later. For any major purchases such as a vehicle, do business only with reputable dealers. You can find help researching a company’s reputation through the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau. Be sure to get everything – including any promises made by the dealer – in writing and read the fine print.
AARP says in 2015, the FTC Data Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book found tax fraud was the most reported type of identity theft. The organization has teams of trained volunteers throughout Ohio who talk to groups and teach them how to protect themselves from the latest schemes.
Some tips include:
- Lock your mailbox if you have that option. 59% of Americans do not regularly lock their mailbox. This leaves them open to criminals stealing bills, tax forms, and other documents that contain personal information.
- Sign up for informed delivery service from the US Postal Service. This option, available in almost all central Ohio zip codes, sends you daily emails with pictures of what will be in your mailbox. This leverages technology the Post Office is already using to process your mail, and doesn’t track your “junk mail.” You can sign up for this on the USPS website. This will let you know when to expect key pieces of mail and take action if you don’t see a piece of mail showing up as expected, like your W-2s.
- Destroy personal information. 21% of Americans say they never shred any of the personal documents that could be used to steal their identity.
- File your taxes early… before the bad guys have a chance. As with many unpleasant things, we often put off doing our taxes until the last minute. But as much as you don’t want to face those 1040 forms, there’s one very good reason to file well before April 15: It’s your best defense against tax-related identity theft.
You can find a list of more dos and don’ts here.
If you suspect a scam or an unfair business practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515. You can also check credentials through the Better Business Bureau.