Be Cautious of Cons that Come Along with Tax Season
Columbus (February 8, 2018) – With W2s due to employees by the end of January, scammers are taking advantage of tax season to fool people into downloading malware. This season, BBB is warning tax filers about a popular scam designed to steal your information.
Here’s how the scam works: you receive an email from someone you don’t know personally, but it looks like an official company message. The email may have a subject line similar to this: “Document Received (Scanned_1040_W2.pdf).” The email contains a link to a “secure file” that appears to be shared via a reputable file sharing service. The message asks you to click the link to make sure your personal information is correct.
Whatever you do, don’t click! Unsolicited emails like these are simply attempts to steal your personal information. The link leads to a third-party website, which may infect your computer with malware.
How to Avoid Tax Season Scams:
- Be extremely cautious when sharing your personal information. Never give information such as bank account, credit card, or Social Security numbers to someone you don’t know personally.
- Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails. If you didn’t ask to be contacted or you don’t know who sent you the email, don’t click the link. You can also reveal a link’s true destination by hovering over it without clicking.
- Get tips from trusted resources like BBB. This time of year, tax scams abound. Stay current on the latest cons and get tips to prevent fraud with resources on IRS.gov. Stay informed by learning more about scams and how to avoid them by reading up on BBB Scam Tips at BBB.org/scamtips.
- Verify with the sender. If the email looks like it is coming from someone you know, like your tax preparer, contact them directly to confirm that they actually sent the message.
To find out more about email scams, check the tips found at BBB.org/phishingscam. To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker.
For more information, follow your BBB on Facebook, Twitter, and at bbb.org.
For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2016, people turned to BBB more than 167 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Central Ohio, which was founded in 1921 and serves 21 counties in Central Ohio.
Attorney General DeWine Warns of Tax Scams
COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is warning Ohioans to avoid scams this tax season. Since January, the Attorney General’s Office has received about 190 reports of tax-related scams.
“Con artists are very good at what they do,” Attorney General DeWine said. “They rely on scare tactics and surprise. When people get scared, they do irrational things. That’s why we want people to know the warning signs. Awareness can make all the difference.”
Common tax scams include:
IRS impostor scams – This is the most common tax scam reported to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. It generally begins with a phone call claiming you owe back taxes or that a warrant has been issued for your arrest. You’re told to call a certain number immediately, and eventually, you’re asked to send money or to provide personal information to resolve the supposed problem.
W-2 phishing scams – This scam targets employers and payroll employees. Typically, an HR or payroll employee receives an email that appears to come from the boss or the head of the organization. The email instructs the employee to send all employees’ W-2s. Although the email may appear to be legitimate, it’s actually part of a phishing scam. (The IRS warned that this scam surged in 2017 and encouraged employers to report any W-2 thefts immediately to the IRS.)
Tax identity theft – Tax identity theft generally occurs when someone steals your personal information to file a tax return and fraudulently obtain your refund. This year, there are extra concerns about tax identity theft because of data breaches that have exposed individuals’ Social Security numbers and other sensitive information.
Tips to avoid tax scams include:
- File your tax return promptly. This makes it less likely that an impostor will be able to file a tax return in your name to steal your refund.
- Don’t respond to threatening robocalls. If you receive an unexpected phone call from someone who threatens to arrest you for not paying taxes, it’s probably a scam. Don’t respond to the call, and don’t provide payment or personal information over the phone.
- Don’t pay taxes using gift cards. In IRS impostor scams, con artists often ask people to buy gift cards and then read the card numbers over the phone. Using this information, the con artists drain funds from the card, making it difficult to trace or recover the money. The real IRS won’t demand that you pay over the phone using a gift card.
- Protect your personal information. If you file your taxes online, make sure you 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. Before getting rid of any unneeded documents that contain your Social Security number or other sensitive information, shred them.
- Research tax preparers and tax-preparation companies. Before giving out any personal records or information, check a tax preparer’s credentials. For example, review information in the IRS’s directory of federal tax return preparers. Consider asking trusted friends and family for referrals.
- Watch out for phishing scams. Be wary of email messages that appear to come from your boss, your financial advisor, or your bank and ask you to provide personal information. The message may be part of a phishing scam.
Consumers who want help detecting a potential scam should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515. IRS or U.S. Treasury impersonation scams can be reported to the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at www.treasury.gov/tigta or 800-366-4484. Tax identity theft should be reported to the IRS (for federal taxes) or the Ohio Department of Taxation (for state taxes).
BBB Has Tips for Choosing a Trustworthy Tax Preparer
Columbus (January 29, 2018) – January 29th through February 2nd is Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week. Many people get help filing their taxes, either from computer software or a professional tax preparer – but horror stories in the media about tax service rip offs and scams have some consumers concerned about who they can trust with their financial data and private information.
The IRS officially started accepting federal tax returns electronically on January 28th, and will do so until the April 17, 2018 deadline. BBB advises taxpayers to always be cautious when choosing a tax preparer, since that person or company will have access to your personally identifiable information (PII).
A paid tax return preparer is primarily responsible for the overall, substantive accuracy of your tax return(s). If there is a problem with your return or you are audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the tax preparer can help you address the issue and can often represent you. The preparer is required to sign your tax forms (paper or electronic) and provide their preparer tax identification number (PTIN), a number assigned by the IRS.
Choosing a tax preparer requires time, research and a high level of trust. BBB recommends the following tips for taxpayers interested in utilizing a tax preparer:
Ask for Referrals. To find a tax preparer, start by asking friends and family for recommendations. Search for all companies on bbb.org to see their rating, complaints and customer reviews.
Confirm they are registered properly. A tax preparer must obtain a PTIN from the IRS. You can verify your tax preparer’s status by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and including their name, address and PTIN if available. Never let someone work on your taxes unless they have this number. Don’t be afraid to ask about this or other qualifications; a capable professional does not mind questions.
Look for credentials. Anyone with a PTIN can prepare your tax forms for you, but some tax preparers have more training and qualifications than others. Enrolled agents, certified public accountants (CPAs) and attorneys have unlimited rights to represent their clients to the IRS on all matters. Other preparers can help you with forms and simple IRS matters, but are limited otherwise, and they can’t help you if they didn’t prepare your form. Learn more about tax preparer credentials on the IRS website.
Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and avoid tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund. Also be wary of “refund anticipation loans,” which can take a hefty chunk of your refund in commission. Refunds are processed quickly these days, so paying a premium price to receive them earlier may not be worth it.
Learn about free tax programs. There are several free government programs that prepare taxes free of charge if you meet an income requirement; go to the IRS’s Free File page for more information. You can also visit the Ohio Department of Taxation’s website.
Look into Tax Software and Apps. If you plan to file yourself, use tax software or an app that provides both excellent data security and good customer service. Some of the top names in tax prep software are BBB Accredited Businesses, so check with bbb.org first.
Consumers can visit BBB’s Tax Resource Center to find additional information on finding a tax preparer, how to avoid popular tax scams and more.
For more information, follow your BBB on Facebook, Twitter, and at bbb.org.
State of Ohio Tax Collection Program Surpasses $20 Million Mark
COLUMBUS – A state of Ohio program established to collect past due taxes from insurance agents has surpassed the $20 million threshold, Ohio Department of Insurance Director Jillian Froment announced.
“While the vast majority of agents follow the law, this program helps to ensure a level playing field across the industry,” Froment said. “I am proud of how well our state partners have worked together in recovering these funds.”
Through a partnership established in 2011 with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Ohio Department of Taxation, the Ohio Department of Insurance, on an annual basis, determines if agents are compliant with Ohio laws. Administrative action may be taken against an agent’s license if an outstanding judgment lien has been filed against the agent or their organization. A total of $20,064,075.40 in unpaid income tax, sales tax and workers’ compensation premium payments have been collected from more than 1,600 insurance agents or payment plans have been established. The vast majority of the nearly 220,000 agents licensed by the Ohio Department of Insurance are in good standing with the state.
Administrative penalties may include revoking, suspending, or refusing to issue an insurance license. Civil penalties can be imposed if an agent or agency fail to comply with any official invoice, notice, assessment, or order directing payment of state income tax, state sales tax or workers’ compensation premiums.
Agents not in compliance should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at 1-888-301-8885. Agents can also contact the Ohio Department of Insurance at 614-644-2560 for assistance.
Ohioans Can Use Tax Donations to Support State Nature Preserves and Wildlife
COLUMBUS – This is the time of year when Ohio residents begin gathering deductions and receipts to file their taxes before the April deadline. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is asking Ohioans to consider showing their love of nature by donating a portion or all of their state income tax refund to support Ohio’s state nature preserves and wildlife.
“The tax refund donations Ohioans generously give to ‘State Nature Preserves’ and the ‘Wildlife Diversity Fund’ continue to help provide protections for Ohio’s most threatened and endangered natural landscapes and species,” ODNR Director James Zehringer said.
Many Ohioans may want to consider donating to the “Wildlife Diversity Fund.” The ODNR Division of Wildlife was originally created during a time when wildlife populations were vanishing at an alarming rate across Ohio. The mission of the division was and still is to manage, protect and restore wildlife populations to improve quality of life for Ohioans. Nearly all wildlife conservation in Ohio is funded by people who hunt, fish and trap. The tax donation program is an important way for all wildlife enthusiasts to help restore and manage endangered and threatened wildlife and other species of special interest.
Donations to the “Wildlife Diversity Fund” benefit wildlife projects across the state, like introducing peregrine falcons and reintroducing some native Ohio species, such as trumpeter swans and Karner blue butterflies, as well as increasing numbers of rare species such as Lake Erie watersnakes, bald eagles and hellbenders. The Wildlife Diversity Fund also allows ODNR to form partnerships with Ohio’s zoos to help create exhibits and displays, as well as educational products and publications for students, teachers and wildlife enthusiasts.
Ohioans may also want to consider giving a donation to support Ohio State Nature Preserves. The ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves oversees a statewide system of 136 unique state nature preserves that are open year-round for people to visit and explore. These beautiful natural areas protect a variety of habitats, such as wetlands, prairies and old growth woods, as well as geologic features and endangered species. Tax refund donations are used to support new trails, educational signage and land conservation.
Recent projects funded by donations include new footbridges at Conkles Hollow in Hocking County and Chaparral Prairie in Adams County; new interpretive signs at Headland Dunes in Lake County and Culberson in Clinton County; and trail improvements at Miller Nature Sanctuary in Highland County and Gross Woods in Shelby County. Donations are also critical in the fight against non-native plants, such as Japanese stiltgrass, which is a serious invader of woodlands in southeast Ohio, and glossy buckthorn, which continues to negatively impact our best wetland habitats at state nature preserves, such as Gott Fen and Kent Bog in northeast Ohio.
When individuals make a tax donation to Ohio’s State Nature Preserves when filing their taxes, they are helping to ensure the biodiversity of habitats, such as Ohio’s prairies, old growth forests, wetlands and rare geologic formations, are protected. By protecting these natural areas and preserves across the state, visitors are able to enjoy activities, such as hiking, photography and birdwatching. Ohio State Nature Preserves provide habitat for many endangered species and enhance the quality of life within Ohio’s communities. By making a tax donation to either Ohio State Nature Preserves or the Wildlife Diversity Fund, Ohioans are helping us ensure the future of Ohio’s many plant and animal species and ecosystems for years to come.
For more information on Ohio State Nature Preserves and how to make a tax donation to support them, visit naturepreserves.ohiodnr.gov/support. For more information on the ODNR Division of Wildlife and the Wildlife Diversity Fund, visit wildohio.gov/support.
ODNR ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR website at ohiodnr.gov.