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SALT LAKE CITY — It’s tax season, which means it’s also identity theft season.
According to the IRS, filing tax returns under someone else’s name is one of the biggest crimes they look for.
“I’ve never been in the victim category before,” said Chris Wittner of Layton.
Wittner tried to file his tax returns earlier this week. Then he found out that they had already been filed by someone else, who cashed a rebate check in his name for $3,500.
“They completely made up my W2 figures, and they walked away with more than triple what I was going to get back any way,” Wittner said.
Wittner is not alone.
The IRS stopped 4 million tax returns with stolen names last year, which equaled out to $8 billion in phony refunds.
“It’s not comfortable being a statistic, you don’t ever think about it until it actually happens to you, and what’s frustrating is I can’t think of anything I could have done to prevent it,” Wittner said.
The IRS said it only takes a few pieces of key information, like a birth date and social security number, and people can submit someone else’s returns.
“If they made up a driver’s license or some sort of photo ID with your name on it, H & R Block, or any other tax preparation firm, is going to think that that person is you,” said Casey Hill of the Internal Revenue Service.
Layton Police say in Wittner’s case, the ID thief submitted the tax return with H and R Block online, in February, at the beginning of tax season. By the time Wittner knew he was a victim, the rebate was already cashed.
“It seems like H & R Block didn’t do anything wrong really, they are just kind of a victim as much as Chris is, that this person decided to use their services,” said Sgt. Clint Bobrowski of the Layton Police Department.
H&R Block is working with police and the victim to help him submit his taxes and get his proper rebate, but like most identity theft cases, it’s going to take time.
“I’m very frustrated with the fact that it’s extremely easy for someone to pose as somebody else, yet it’s going to take me hundreds of days to get my life back on track here,” Wittner said.
The IRS and Layton police say identity thieves can be very difficult to track down, and many times there is never an arrest because the thief could be operating anywhere in the world.
The IRS says the best thing you can do is file your returns as soon as possible, so you don’t give criminals time to file under your name.
Another big tip is to protect your Social Security number as much as possible. Try to avoid giving it out over the phone or online.