It's not unusual that the big news this filing season is the growing concern about tax identity theft as a way to get fraudulent refunds.
But it is a bit surprising that the crime has spread so quickly and widely to state tax departments.
That's why many tax officials across the United States are employing creative ways to stop tax ID thieves.
Take, for example, Ohio. The Buckeye State is requiring some filers to take an online quiz to prove that they are legitimate taxpayers who are due the refund shown on returns the tax agency has received.
The Ohio Department of Taxation's quiz, however, is getting a failing grade from some honest filers whose refunds are delayed until they can pass the test.
Quiz letters issued: In cases where a returns looks suspicious, taxpayers have received a letter from the Department of Taxation instructing them to go online and take a four-question, multiple choice quiz to confirm that they are the rightful filers.
Ohio tax officials have chosen "to be more stringent with the screening of returns," according to Gary Gudmundson, the agency's communications director, because last year the state stopped more than $265 million in attempted fraudulent returns. Before 2014, tax fraud in Ohio averaged just around $10 million a year.
Cramming for the tax ID quiz: Ohioans who get the letter have 60 days to take the quiz. The online test is timed and taxpayers will know immediately if they passed.
If the filer's identity is confirmed, his or her tax return and refund will continue to be processed. If the test-taker fails, the taxpayer can take the quiz a second time.
But if the individual fails the quiz twice, he or she must provide Ohio tax officials with paper identity documentation.
The ID confirmation material includes a valid photo ID, such as state driver's license, state-issued ID card, current passport or military ID. You must also provide a copy of your birth certificate or a current utility bill in your name at the address shown on your Ohio tax return.
The state also wants to see your Social Security card, workplace income statements, prior year federal tax returns, and "all other supporting documentation" used in preparing Ohio or school district income tax returns.
Questionable identity questions: Ohio taxpayers obviously don't want their identities and tax refunds stolen. But some think the state's tax department is going a bit overboard.
One test-taker who didn't know the answers to her personalized quiz questions told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the process was disheartening. "My husband and I have been married 46 years, lived in Jackson County, Ohio, all our lives and have never been questioned before," she said.
Other taxpayers are concerned that the quiz itself is a scam. It's not.
Greater taxpaying good: State officials acknowledge that the process can be frustrating for those who can't answer the online questions, which come from various public and commercial data sources.
But the number of Ohio taxpayers who fail the quiz is small, according to the state. Early reports cited a 10 percent failure rate; the state now says it's more like 3 percent.
That's a very small number of inconvenienced folks, say Ohio officials, to help fight the larger battle against tax identity fraud.
Still, the state has made some quiz adjustments. Gudmundson said the state has looked at some of the parameters for some of the questions and altered them somewhat.
The tax agency also has re-examined the standards it uses to determine whether someone requesting a refund needs additional screening.
But such "nibbling around the edges" is as far as the state is willing to go. And it's standing by its taxpayer refund ID quiz.
"We have to stay a step ahead of the would-be thieves and block refunds from going out to people they shouldn't go to," said Ohio Tax Commissioner Joe Testa.
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