Annoying quiz might stand between you and your tax return, thanks to ID thieves

Ohio ID theftJust how bad is the tax ID theft problem?  About half of all filers seeking refunds in the state of Ohio now must answer a series of challenge questions just to prove they are who they say they are.  Ohio has already intercepted nearly 60,000 returns seeking an astonishing $250 million, so its tax department felt the need to do *something.* The problem is that something might not help.

Ohioans are being asked to take an online quiz of so-called Knowledge-Based Authentication questions. You’re familiar with them — “Which of these streets did you live on?”…or… “Which banks holds your mortgage?”  Here’s the problem:

“(I) can imagine these questions are hard for legit users to answer and easy for some criminals who have stolen personal data along the way, ” said Avivah Litan, a fraud expert at consultancy Gartner.

Criminals who have hacked their way into a variety of data broker databases, or simply used stolen credit cards to buy their way in, can get those answers. Meanwhile, consumers are often stumped by the questions.  Failure rates for this kind of authentication can be as high as 20 percent.

Ohio deserves credit for taking action in light of the tax ID  theft epidemic.  But it’s a hard problem to solve.

Here’s the original text that appeared earlier this week on Credit.com. You can read it below, or click on the original. 

State governments around the country are struggling with tax return identity theft, a problem so rampant that even TurboTax had to temporarily suspend electronic state filing. In Ohio, where 58,000 fraudulent tax returns have been intercepted this tax season, state officials have taken the drastic step of requiring some taxpayers to fill out an online quiz before accepting their returns.

(This story first appeared on Credit.com. Read it there)

“The Ohio Department of Taxation has intercepted more than $250 million of fraudulent refund claims this year,” the agency said on its website. That’s a huge increase from 10,000 fraudulent returns seeking $8 million last year, according to the Dayton Daily News.

Once a computer determines that something is suspicious about the return, taxpayers are directed toward the “quiz,” which will look a lot like the out-of-wallet challenge questions posed by AnnualCreditReport.com and other sites seeking to authenticate consumers. According to taxpayers who say they’ve been challenged, the questions ask users to confirm streets they’ve lived on, cars they’ve owned, and so on.

“This is changing daily, but as we are still relatively early in the filing season, the Ohio Department of Taxation is opting to be more stringent with the screening of returns,” said Gary Gudmundson, the agency’s communications director. “Of the 1.2 million returns requesting a refund, 49% of those filers/taxpayers … have been directed to take the Identity Confirmation Quiz.”

Users directed to the quiz can expect delays in receiving their tax refunds; how long is unclear. Those who cannot correctly answer the questions can expect additional delays. They will be directed to telephone operators for additional verification.

“Of those who’ve taken the quiz, 95% passed. Those who don’t are asked to submit documentation (copy of driver’s license, birth certificate, utility bills, previous year(s) tax returns, etc.) to prove they are who they say they are,” said Gudmundson.

One user who said she failed to answer correctly wasn’t immediately booted from the system.

“Did it and apparently answered one wrong but they give you another chance,” she wrote on Facebook.

Given the heightened concern about identity theft and tax returns, some residents are worried the challenge questions are part of a scam. Ohio tax officials are telling taxpayers via regular mail that they must complete the quiz.

“If you get a letter, yes it is from the state, not a con,” wrote one Ohio resident on her Facebook page.

For an identity thief to steal your tax return, they need a lot of personal information, including your Social Security number, which can be used to perpetrate all sorts of fraud, even opening new accounts in your name and wrecking your credit in the process. You can spot identity theft quickly by regularly monitoring your credit.

You can get your credit reports for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com and you can get your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.

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About Bob Sullivan 1356 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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