Tax season favorite time for identity thieves

TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- You may be hard at work just gathering your W-2's and interest statements. But identity thieves are working equally hard to file a return in your name, before you can. KEPR learned how identity theft is on the rise each spring.

Sharla and Lyle Marshall believe they dodged a bullet.

"I called and canceled all the info so it wouldn't do him any good," said Marshall.

After accidentally giving an identity thief too much information, they beat the thief to the punch.

"We got a phone call telling us that we had our bank information put on the Internet, they wanted the numbers of it so they could get that off of the Internet, and I answered a couple of questions for them and thought, 'No, this isn't quite right,'" he said.

The couple canceled their bank accounts, but still receive calls from the man weekly. Now that we are in the heart of tax return filing, experts say cases like this happen far more often.

"We have some cases of identity theft here," said the owner of Liberty Tax Service, Sandy Compher.

She told KEPR one of her clients was hit hard.

"The person didn't know that they had their identity stolen," she said.

The Pasco man had thousands of dollars racked up in his name. He even owed the IRS a lot of money because of the thief's actions.

"It took him over three years to get that figured out and get it straightened out," said Compher.

The IRS investigated almost 70 percent more thefts related to tax returns last year, but cases in the Tri-Cities actually fell. In 2012, there were 85 reported in Pasco and Richland. Last year, that number fell to 66. Kennewick doesn't track theirs.

But police don't think identity theft is happening less often. They think more people are just bypassing a police report and going directly to their bank.

"It's quite a scam how they can do that," said Marshall.

Sharla and Lyle were luck they didn't pay the price, but you'll want to stay on guard even after April 15th.

There are a few other ways to keep yourself protected:

- Keep your birthday off Facebook. It's a treat to have all your friends wish you a happy day, but it's not worth the identity risk. By having your birthday, thieves can also work to get your social security number or address.
- File a return early. This way thieves won't have the chance to file a bogus return in your name.
- If you're not filing a return online, take the hard copy directly to the post office. Leaving it in your personal mailbox to be picked up is too risky these days.