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File your taxes early to help foil identity thieves

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Federal income tax filing season began Monday, and as painful as it can be, filing as soon as possible can help thwart identity thieves.

Posted Updated

Susan Salisbury
, Cox Newspapers

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Federal income tax filing season began Monday, and as painful as it can be, filing as soon as possible can help thwart identity thieves.

The IRS said it expects to receive nearly 155 million individual tax returns this year.

The nation's tax deadline is April 17 -- so taxpayers will have two additional days to file beyond April 15. That's because April 15 falls on a Sunday, and also due to Emancipation Day, a legal holiday, being observed April 16.

Although the IRS began accepting both electronic and paper tax returns Monday, paper returns will begin processing later in mid-February as system updates continue, IRS officials said.

The IRS strongly encourages people to file their tax returns electronically for faster refunds.

Filing early reduces the chance that a tax identity thief will get to the IRS first and claim your tax refund, a Federal Trade Commission spokesperson said this week. It's the top recommendation from the FTC's tips on how to fight tax identity theft.

Fraudsters typically file false returns as early as possible so that the IRS receives the false return before the legitimate one. Your risk for identity theft drastically decreases when you collect and file your information early.

Lisa Weintraub Schifferle, an FTC attorney, said that all a thief needs to file a fraudulent tax return is your Social Security number, which can be bought on the black market. Most often, the victim finds out when the IRS notifies him or her that there has already been a return filed with that number.

Here are the FTC's other tips on how to fight tax identity theft:

-- Use a secure internet connection if you file electronically, or mail your tax return directly from the post office.

-- Shred copies of your tax return, drafts, or calculation sheets you no longer need.

-- Respond to all mail from the IRS as soon as possible.

-- Know the IRS won't contact you by email, text, or social media. If the IRS needs information, it will first contact you by mail.

-- Don't give out your Social Security number unless necessary.

-- Research a tax preparer thoroughly before you hand over personal information.

-- Check your credit report at least once a year for free at to make sure no other accounts have been opened in your name.

-- If tax identity theft happens to you, visit to report it to the FTC, file an Identity Theft Affidavit with the IRS electronically, and get a personal recovery plan.

The IRS set the Jan. 29 opening date to ensure the security and readiness of key tax processing systems in advance of the opening and to assess the potential impact of tax legislation on 2017 tax returns.

The IRS cannot issue refunds claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit before mid-February. While the IRS will process those returns when received, it cannot issue related refunds before mid-February.

Susan Salisbury writes for The Palm Beach Post. Email: ssalisbury(at)

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