Delaware County law enforcement agencies say tax fraud has decreased significantly 2016, compared to the last couple of years when it was on the rise.
Delaware police report they have only investigated 17 reports of identity fraud related to taxes since the first of the year. Police report they handled 63 cases last year and had already investigated 38 cases by last year’s filing deadline. Police said they only had 29 cases in 2014.
Similarly, the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office reports it has investigated 67 identity theft reports since the first of the year. In the same time period last year, they had taken 188 reports.
Powell police say they have also seen a decline in tax fraud. Powell police report only four cases this year, a sharp decrease from the 43 reports taken in the same time period last year.
Delaware Police Capt. Adam Moore said one of the factors that resulted in the decrease in numbers was some new safeguards instituted by the Ohio Department of Taxation.
Joseph Testa, Ohio tax commissioner, said Friday that while the state has imposed additional safeguards, there is still work to be done.
Testa said it’s still too early to put together figures on tax fraud this year since there are still roughly 1 million tax returns yet to be filed in the state. The 2016 filing deadline was April 18.
Testa said the state last year created a ID confirmation quiz to verify identities of filers before their returns were processed. Testa said the quiz was sent to 34 percent of filers last year, in the belief that some of them were victims of fraudulent filings. Testa said this year the quiz has only been sent to about 14 percent of filers.
The rise in electronic filings has a lot to do with the increase in fraud attempts, Testa said in 2015.
The taxation department reports that a single fraudulent filer might turn in hundreds or even thousands of tax returns with real names — including those of the deceased — and stolen Social Security numbers. The department said the filers hope that a least a few of their falsified returns will be processed and the money will be deposited into their accounts electronically.
Testa said that this year “greater attention that has been paid to the process.”
“We are working on this,” Testa said. “We are aggressively putting up safeguards and improving safeguards to protect treasury and Ohio citizens.”
Testa said the software vendors have also stepped up their involvement, adding additional identity confirmation checks to tax-preparation software.
Testa said all of these actions are helping but the criminals will continue to try to abuse the system.
“They are relentless,” Testa said. “We can’t let our guard down.”
Testa said it would be several months before the Department of Taxation has information to decide if this tax season was more of a success than last year but said that, even if it is, the state will continue to improve its methods.
“We cannot allow a successful tax season to let us drop our guard,” Testa said.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.