YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Nearly half of all Ohio taxpayers will have to take an extra step before they can get their state refund this year.
The Ohio Department of Taxation says tax refund fraud is at an all-time high. Online scammers are using stolen identities to try to claim victims’ tax refunds.
Normally, the state catches $8 million or $10 million in fake returns. But last year, that number jumped as crooks tried to steal $267 million.
The state hired an outside company to help screen all state income tax refund requests this year, but some taxpayers have been treating the state letters as suspicious.
Millions of Ohio residents are receiving “identity verification quizzes” in the mail and several have contacted WKBN 27 First News to ask what these are.
“It is not a scam. It really is the Department of Taxation saying we need some further information or you need to take a quiz,” department spokesman Joe Testa said.
One local family said they have been left with more questions than answers about the process.
John and Debra Bisker of Niles have filed their taxes online for several years. But this year, they found themselves having to prove they were the real Bisker family.
“We had to take the quiz for identity fraud and prove who we were. And I did answer all the questions correctly and I passed through just fine,” Debra Bisker said.
The questions ask about childhood addresses, old car registrations and old home addresses. When it came time for John to take his quiz, something went wrong.
Only one of the four questions had anything to do with him. They were about relatives with similar names, and he could not pass.
“Same questions, just different order. But the same answers. I don’t care how they took them out of sequence from one another, they are still all the same answers,” John Bisker said.
Testa said the state is looking for additional ways it can add safeguards to the system.
The state is paying $3.5 million to Lexis Nexis, a company that tracks people on and offline, to put the quizzes together.
“These are questions, that if you are who you say you are, you should be able to answer them. And 97 percent of the people who go to the quiz are passing it,” Testa said.
If someone does not pass, the state requires 15 pages of documentation to prove they are who they say they are.