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Protect your tax refund from crooks and hackers

Along with tax season comes a frighteningly easy form of identity theft that can cause you a heap of trouble. Thieves with just a little information about you can file a bogus tax return in your name and claim a huge refund.

While it doesn’t always work out so well for the fraudster, the IRS still gives out billions each year in fraudulent refunds. In 2014, for example, it paid out $5.8 billion that it shouldn’t have, and that’s just the fraud it identified. Unfortunately, this year that could be your money.

Your first clue that thieves have stolen your tax refund is when you try to file your tax return and the IRS rejects it because it already has “your” tax return on file. After that, it’s a huge hassle to correct the problem, and you could spend months waiting on your refund. If you were counting on that money, then it’s a serious financial hardship.

The best way to avoid an unfortunate episode with your taxes is to file your tax return as early as possible to get it in ahead of the fraudsters. Once you file, their window of opportunity is closed.

However, early filing isn’t practical for everyone, so we’re going to talk about some other ways to keep your tax return safe during the next few months.

Protect your Social Security number

Your Social Security number is THE key piece of information a scammer needs to file a bogus return on your account. To keep it safe:

Get an IRS Identity Protection PIN

The Internal Revenue Service is well aware that crooks are trying to steal your identity. It also knows that all a hacker needs to file a fraudulent claim on your account is your name and Social Security number. That’s why the IRS has developed an identity protection tool for certain taxpayers.

An Identity Protection PIN is a six-digit number assigned to eligible taxpayers that helps prevent the misuse of your Social Security number on fraudulent federal income tax returns. You have to use the IP Pin on every tax return to prove it’s you filing it.

The IRS PIN program is not yet available for every U.S. taxpayer. Getting an Identity Protection PIN starts with figuring out if you’re eligible. Read more here to see if you are eligible for this identity protection.

What to do if you are a victim of tax identity theft

Report the crime. File a report with your local police and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.identitytheft.gov or by calling the FTC Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-438-4338.

Request a fraud alert. Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) and ask that a fraud alert be placed on your credit records.

Close fraudulent accounts. Close any credit or financial account that has been tampered with by a thief or opened without your permission.

Contact the IRS. Call the number provided on the IRS notice informing you of the fraud. Complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. You can use a form at IRS.gov, print, then mail or fax the form as needed as you clear your tax record.

Pay your taxes. Be sure to continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return on time, even if you must do so by mailing in paper forms.

Stay diligent. If you contacted the IRS about taxpayer ID theft and did not receive a resolution, contact the Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490 about your case.

More tips you can’t miss:

Best online tax preparation software and services

5 hot gadgets to buy with your 2017 tax refund

3 apps to track your medical history

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