12 On Your Side: Tax return ID thieves may steal your refund check

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News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- The 2014 tax filing season is upon us and you may want to file early or risk having some scammers cashing in on your refund.

"Every year I see more people coming in with some form of identity theft," said Elaine Wegrzyn, tax advisor with H & R Block.

Wegrzyn said it is one reason why you may want to file your return early. A second reason is, you may get your return back sooner.

"You have to put yourself in the place of someone who is out there trying to use your social security number. He or she is going to file just as soon as they possibly can to beat you," said Wegrzyn.

She said tax filers should be gathering their W-2's, 1099's and other documents. However, due to last year's government shutdown, the IRS will not begin handling returns until Jan. 31.

"If you file electronically today your return goes into order and the IRS is going to take them first come first serve," said Wegrzyn. with this year's later than usual start, she expects to be quite busy.

"We will absolutely be flooded probably starting around the middle of next week and going through the next 10 days to two weeks," said Wegrzyn. Also busy will be the those tax refund thieves.

The FTC says in 2010 around 15 percent of complaints were related to tax identity theft. In 2013 it spiked to 43 percent.

A major concern for some lawmakers.

"Last year alone there were 1.8 million incidents of identity theft and fraudulent refunds," said U.S. Senator Max Baucus.

The IRS increased its criminal investigation caseload in 2013 by 66 percent from the previous year. Meanwhile those indicted and sentenced for tax fraud doubled.

For now, Wegrzyn said you can also reduce your chance of becoming a victim by avoiding some common tax scams.

"The IRS does not use email to contact individuals and that's so important," Wegrzyn said.

Ignore those emails and try to avoid giving out your social security number to anyone unless its absolutely necessary.

Some additional advice is to always mail your return from the post office. If you file electronically make sure it is from a secure computer. Also, ignore email or text messages that claim to be from the IRS. Remember, the IRS communicates only by mail and phone calls.

Finally, if you are a tax ID theft victim contact the IRS which will open an investigation.