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Protect Yourself From Tax Refund Identity Theft

MIAMI (CBS4) – Ah, it's that time of year. Super Bowl speculation is in the air and tax forms from employers and banks are in the mail.

This year's tax season has started off with an important warning from federal authorities. Tax refund identity theft is expected to be even worst this year compared to last year. However, there are several things you can do to keep your identity, and your refund, safe.

Lauri King is one of an estimated 650,000 taxpayers who had their refund stolen by somebody else last year.

"They're more you than you are yourself when they have your information. I filed my taxes on March 17th of 2012," said King.

She's still waiting for her refund and hasn't heard anything back from the Internal Revenue Service about her complaint.

The agency has said it would try to get taxpayers who had their identities stolen, like King, their refunds back within six months.

King, who works as a waitress, said despite repeatedly complaining to them, she hasn't heard anything back.

"I haven't had a piece of mail, I haven't had any notification. I sent my affidavit of identity theft which I was told to fill out.twice.and I haven't heard anything, nothing," said King.

Federal officials urge all taxpayers to take their warning about tax refund identity theft seriously.

"It's going to get worse before it gets better. This is spreading like a virus. We're talking billions. The IRS itself, the Inspector General for the IRS predicted that in the next five years, IRS could be paying $21 billion dollars in stolen identity refund fraud schemes," said U-S Attorney for South Florida Wifredo Ferre.

What The IRS Is Doing To Combat Refund Fraud

Tax assistance signs for this year's season are starting to pop-up all over South Florida, offering thousands of dollars in potential refunds. But they don't identify any company names or where they're even located.

Paula Reid, who is in charge of the Miami field office of the U.S. Secret Service, said they're anticipating that identity thieves will be very aggressive this year.

"I think it's getting worse. I would never give my personal identifying information to someone I barely know, someone I just met or someone I don't know whose intentions are," said Reid.

To avoid becoming a tax refund victim, never give out your financial information to any tax preparers without completely checking them out.

Ways You Can Protect Yourself From  Tax Refund Identity Theft

Never give out your date of birth or social security number to anyone unless you know how it will be used and protected.

Consider filing early so if your tax identity has been stolen, you can alert the IRS as soon as possible.

The agency declined repeated requests to appear on camera about why it's taking so long for so many taxpayers like King to get their legitimate refunds back. But King thinks she knows.

"I think they're overwhelmed. I don't think they want to admit they're overwhelmed. I think it's insane. This is crazy, it's ridiculous. I mean we're going on 2013 I haven't even settled up on 2011 yet, it's ridiculous," said King.

The IRS' Commissioner resigned last fall.

There's no word out of Washington when a full-time replacement will be nominated.

Justice department prosecutors expect South Florida will remain the worst place in the country for identity theft.

This year King, like hundreds of thousands of other victims, are worrying if their next tax refund will be stolen again.

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