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Consumer Alert: RI Attorney General's Office sees an increase in tax return fraud

Refunds are probably the only good thing about tax season.

But scammers are ruining that.

“You know, it's scary,” Martha Crippen, director of the Rhode Island Attorney General's Consumer Protection Unit, said. “It's very, very scary.”

Until you file your 2016 tax return, your refund is ripe for the picking. Crippen said cyber criminals are grabbing them fast this year.

“Over the past couple of weeks, we've received a number of phone calls from individuals who've had fraudulent tax returns filed under their names,” said Crippen.

Raymond Petrarca, president of Stratus Financial Group, Inc. in Warwick said about five percent of his clients -- 147 taxpayers -- have had their returns filed fraudulently this year.

Petrarca hired an internet security company out of Pennsylvania to determine if his company was breached, but after searching through four years’ worth of data, Petrarca said those security experts couldn’t find a flaw.

Crippen said four other Southern New England tax preparation or financial companies have reported similar problems to the Rhode Island Attorney General's Office.

“All companies that do this have good security systems in place to protect their information, but those cyber criminals are always 10 steps ahead of this it seems,” said Crippen.

If you're impacted, you'll receive a letter from your tax preparer or the IRS, notifying you that someone has fraudulently filed your tax return.

Unfortunately, beyond filing your return on January 23, 2017 -- the moment filing season opened -- there's really no way to completely protect your refund.

“You've done what you think is the right thing to do and now you're put in this situation where it's a burden,” said Crippen.

If you learn that someone has filed your return fraudulently, there are a number of steps you have to take to secure your identity and get your tax refund back. Click here to find that information.

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