Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week - | News, Weather & Sports in Billings, Montana

Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week

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Have you started on your taxes yet? It may be early in the tax season, but it is time to start thinking about tax returns. January 13-17 is Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week.

"Tax identity theft is the fastest growing form of identity theft in the United States, according to the complaints that the Federal Trade Commission receives," says Lisa Schifferle with the FTC. According to the FTC's website, tax identity theft accounted for 43 percent of identity theft reports to the agency in 2012, up from 15 percent in 2010.

A large proportion of tax identity theft is refund-related. "What will happen is fraudsters will get your social security number, either through a data breach or through stealing it from a hospital or other organization, and then once they have your social security number, they'll use it to file for a refund," Schifferle says.

Filing early an be one way to beat a criminal to the punch. "If you file first, they can't get your refund, even if they try to use your social security number," Schifferle says. Plus, for those expecting a refund, filing earlier will likely mean having cash in hand sooner.

Schifferle also recommends knowing your tax preparer, if you aren't doing your own taxes. "There are a lot of scams that are the result of people using tax preparers that are really just fraudsters setting up shop in order to get your personal information. Also, when you're filing online, make sure to use a secure connection. Don't file your taxes form a wifi hotspot." And if you plan to mail in your taxes, don't leave the return in your mailbox overnight. Drop off you return at the nearest post office to avoid having your data stolen.

If you believe you've been a victim of tax identity theft, you can call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.