Greensboro, NC -- Thieves are stealing social security numbers, filing tax returns, and getting money from the IRS that doesn't belong to them.
And the problem has grown exponentially. According to the Taxpayer Advocate Service, a division of the IRS, since Fiscal Year 2008, the number of identity theft cases has exploded by 650 percent.
It's happened in Raleigh. It's happened in Charlotte. And it's happened right here in the Triad.
Last year, Derek Jones asked News 2 for help after someone stole his son's social security number.
He found out when he tried to claim his son on his tax return.
"They told me that they couldn't do it unless I took his name off because somebody had already used his social security number for their filing," said Jones.
Unfortunately, a lot of times you don't find out until your return has already been rejected, unless you know what to look for.
Derek's case is just one red flag, but there are others:
--If you get a letter from the IRS that says you have a balance due or have had collection actions taken against you
--If you get a letter from the IRS that says you received wages from an employer you have not worked for
--If you have questionable credit card activity or activity on your credit report
So, how should you protect yourself? Kevin Robinson, owner of Robinson Tax & Accounting Services shared some tips.
--Never carry your social security card with you.
--You should check your credit report at least once a year.
--If you're e-filing, use a strong password that's not your social security number.
--Never respond to an email that says it's from the IRS because they will never contact you via email.
"Somehow, that social security number is tied to everything. And therefore, we just got to safeguard it at all costs. We just really cannot let our guard down for anybody," said Robinson.
If you think you or one of your children could be a victim of identity theft, you need to submit an additional tax form called an "Identity Theft Affidavit."
Also, Robinson said you should file your taxes as early as you can, so you have plenty of time to clear something up.
If you have any questions, call the IRS identity theft hotline at 1-800-908-4490.
If someone claiming to be the IRS emails you, forward that email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
WFMY News 2