Tax season is here: how to protect yourself from scammers trying to steal your refund


    More than 150 million income tax returns are expected to be filed this year. (FILE)<p>{/p}

    Tax season is officially here, which means it's prime time for scammers trying to steal your refund.

    The thieves use your personal information to file a fraudulent return on your behalf. Then the IRS sends the scammer the money you should be getting back.

    Brad Bertrand, president of Retirement Solutions in Oklahoma City, recommends four steps you can take to protect your identity and your refund.

    1. FILE EARLY

    Just make sure you have all your paperwork together first.

    "If you have all the information you need to submit your filing, do it," Bertrand said. "Because if you submit that filing early, it minimizes the chances of someone filing a return on your behalf and trying to scam you."

    2. WATCH FOR RED FLAGS

    The IRS won't email you, send you a text, or contact you on social media.

    "The first method the IRS will use to contact you will always be a letter," said Bertrand. "They may follow up with a telephone call, but it will reference back to that first letter they sent you."

    3. BE SAFE

    If you're filing your taxes online, don't use public wi-fi.

    "Make sure you do it from a computer that has firewalls and has anti-virus, so again you’re protected," Bertrand said.

    Don't leave your tax documents lying around in the open, and be careful when you give out any personal information.

    "If you get any type of call that’s suspicious and they’re representing the IRS or any other organization and they need vital information – just to confirm your name or date of birth or social security number – and they’re just confirming it – absolutely do not do that," Bertrand said.

    4. ADJUST YOUR WITHHOLDING

    Betrand says you want your refund to be as close to zero as possible.

    "The smaller the return you get at the end of the year, the smaller the potential loss if indeed you are a victim of this theft," he said.

    You will also benefit by getting more money in your paycheck during the year.

    If you think you may have been a victim of identity theft, contact the IRS as soon as possible. You can also file an identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

    The deadline to file your taxes is April 15th.

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