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Echo Press Editorial: Don't fall victim to tax ID theft

With tax season off and running, filers should be aware of the most rapidly growing scam in the country: tax identity theft.

Statistics from the Federal Trade Commission show that in 2012, tax identity theft accounted for more than 40 percent of identity theft complaints.

It happens when someone uses your Social Security number to file a tax refund or get a job, according to Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota.

You might find out you’ve been a victim of tax identity theft when you get a letter from the IRS saying more than one tax return was filed in your name or if IRS records show you have wages from an employer you don’t recognize.

The BBB offers these steps to avoid tax identity theft:

• Don’t give out your Social Security number unless necessary.

• Use a secure Internet connection if you file your taxes electronically.

• Be aware the IRS won’t contact you by e-mail, text or through social media; if they need information, they will contact you by mail.

• If your Social Security number has been compromised, contact the IRS ID Theft Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.

• Check your credit report at least once a year, for free, at

In addition, the BBB offers the following advice on how to find a trustworthy tax preparer:

• Ask around. Get referrals from friends and family on who they use and check BBB reports on tax preparers and tax preparation services at

• Don’t fall for the promise of big refunds. Be wary of any tax preparation service that promises larger refunds than the competition, and steer clear of tax preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the refund.

• Look for credentials. Ideally, your tax preparer should either be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney, an enrolled agent or a certified E-file provider.

• Investigate whether the preparer has any questionable history with the Minnesota Board of Accountancy (for CPAs), the State Bar Association (for attorneys) or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for enrolled agents.

• Remember that a paid preparer is required by law to sign your return and fill in the preparer areas of the form. They should also include their appropriate identifying number on the return. In addition, the preparer must give you a copy of your return.

• Consider accessibility. Many tax preparation services only set up shop for the months leading up to April 15. In case the IRS finds errors, or in case of an audit, you might need to be able to contact your tax preparer throughout the year; be sure to find out how you would do so.