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Easy way ID thieves steal your tax returns, not much you can do about it

Federal Trade Commission Washington

WASHINGTON – Federal agents say the crime of cyber crooks stealing your tax refund has suddenly gotten worse.

The real bad news is there are only a few ways to prevent it and not much can be done if you become the victim.

ID thieves have found a weakness in the IRS’ tax return procedure.

They know returns filed electronically don’t immediately require the all-important W2.

“When you file your tax return online, you don’t have to actually file your W-2 electronically,” Maneesha Mithal said, Federal Trade Commission Privacy and ID Protection. “So, they can make up the payroll information in order to get a tax refund in your name.”

That is why the tax refund you will soon be filling for with the IRS has become such a popular target for identity thieves.

ID protection specialists at the FTC said, in the last two years, stealing someone’s tax identity has become the fastest-growing form of ID theft.

Officials said it almost doubled in 2013.

It starts with a thief getting your Social Security number and then filling out phony wage info online leading to what privacy experts call a near-hopeless situation.

“The truth is if an identity thief has your number and your address, and they’re clever, you very well could be a victim and there’s not much you can do to prevent it,” Bob Sullivan said, author and privacy expert.

That’s why the FTC is launching a campaign this week, urging consumers to first and foremost protect their Social Security numbers.

They also stress consumers should act quickly on doing taxes this year.

“So if you get a jump on the identity thief by filing your tax return first, you can get your refund first,” Mithal said.

Sullivan said, “If it’s a race, you want to beat the criminals to getting your tax return in, right?”

The IRS has added staff to help but only after a tax filer figures out they’re a victim.