POSTED: Monday, February 27, 2012 - 11:27pm
UPDATED: Monday, February 27, 2012 - 11:33pm
EL PASO — The IRS is getting the word out about thieves who want to steal your identity and get your tax refund.
The crime of stealing someone's identity to get a tax refund has increased from about 50,000 cases two years ago to more than 260,000 now.
News Channel Nine met with Terry Hansen from Jackson Hewitt, a local tax service, to get some tips on how to prevent this.
It's a busy time of year for him and in one way, it's busier than ever. Crooks are beating hard-working El Pasoans to their own tax refunds. So now on the 10-40 form, there's a space where taxpayers can indicate their social security number has already been compromised by theft.
"Instead of social security, they're gonna put this down here so when the IRS gets it, they're gonna process it under this number," said Hansen.
Therese Augustine says she knows a victim whose social security number fell into the wrong hands and cost them a refund.
"It happens when they do it real early in the season, so they gotta be first because then by the time someone files it, it comes back rejected saying someone already did that," said Augustine.
Last year alone, the IRS says it stopped phony claims for $1.4 billion dollars in refunds. Part of the problem is more and more people are trusting friends or online tools to file taxes where social security numbers aren't necessarily protected.
Hansen says corporations like Jackson Hewitt are the most reliable.
"Everything's filed away, everything is secure. Its stored online. It's stored in locked cabinets. Nothing can leave here," said Hansen.
But what else can you do to make sure your social security number isn't stolen?
"Never enter it on a website, no matter how many times the website asks you. Protect that social security number like it's money, because it is," said Bob Sullivan, a technology writer for MSNBC.
The good news is that the IRS is taking steps to prevent thieves from using social security numbers to file tax returns. If this does happen to you, notify the IRS immediately. For more information visit the IRS website : http://www.irs.gov/  .