Fla. online shoppers may owe state taxes

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FLORIDA —

Shoppers who bought Christmas gifts online this year may owe the state of Florida taxes.

WFTV reporter Lori Brown found out that it is up to the consumer to write a check to the state.

Online retailers that are not based in Florida, such as Amazon.com, are not required to collect Florida's 6 percent sales tax.

Therefore, the state relies on the honor system.

However, few people are actually paying up.

One estimate that WFTV found said the state is losing out on $800 million in state and local sales taxes.

Small-business owners said the loophole is costing them, too.

"The tax money should be staying here in Florida where it belongs, and everyone should be under the same rules and regulations," said Walter Toole of Toole's Ace Hardware.

The Florida Department of Revenue said it is consumers’ responsibility to pay their sales tax directly to the state, but none of the shoppers Brown talked to had paid or knew they were supposed to.

"No, I had no clue," said online shopper Kristin Wunker.

Instead of charging customers sales tax at the time of their purchase, sites like Amazon.com display an asterisk, which customers have the option of clicking on to see a detailed explanation of their responsibility to pay the tax.

"Who's going to do that? Because I'm in a hurry, that's why I'm shopping online," said online shopper Julie Zachar.

Toole said online companies have a competitive advantage over local business, while the state is losing money that should go to schools, roads and public safety.

"Why should they have an unfair advantage over companies that are local, paying taxes, employing people?" Toole asked.

Last year, lawmakers tried and failed to require online businesses to charge Florida's sales tax.

A Miami lawmaker is now taking another shot at it this year.