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Identity theft on tax returns soars

Identity theft involving tax returns rose fivefold between 2008 and 2010, a new study shows. Taxpayer identity theft typically involves stealing Social Security numbers and filing for refunds early.

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U.S. Park Police Officer Calvin Covington (left) waits his turn in line with his horse Harper to mail his family's income tax returns at a mobile post office in downtown Washington, April 15, 2010. Between 2008 and 2010, taxpayer identity theft has soared fivefold, according to a new report.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/File

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WASHINGTON – Imagine filing your tax return and learning that someone else got your refund. With your name and Social Security number, no less.

The IRS is grappling with a nearly five-fold increase in taxpayer identity theft between 2008 and 2010, a Government Accountability Office official plans to tell a House hearing Thursday. There were 248,357 incidents in 2010, compared to 51,702 in 2008.

The GAO findings, obtained by The Associated Press, don't begin to describe the pain for a first-time victim, who must wait for a refund while the IRS sorts out which return is real and which is a fraud.

Many identity thieves don't get prosecuted, according James White, director of strategic issues for the GAO..

"IRS officials told us that IRS pursues criminal investigations of suspected identity thieves in only a small number of cases," White says in testimony prepared for a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee.

He said that in the 2010 fiscal year, the IRS criminal investigations division initiated just over 4,700 investigations of all types — far less than the identity theft cases alone.

"We want to know why this problem is apparently getting much worse," said Rep. Todd Platts, R-Pa., chairman of the subcommittee. "By bringing these issues to the public as quickly as possible, the committee hopes to give citizens the necessary information so they can protect themselves from such identity theft."

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