If you file your taxes early, you could avoid being scammed out of your return

According to the IRS, the number of tax rebate scams has jumped from nearly 49,000 in 2010 to more than 260,000 today.

The big scam?  Thieves get a hold of your social security number and use it to file through an e-tax program.  As long as you haven't already filed, there's a chance the scammer will end up with your rebate.

To avoid becoming a victim, experts recommend protecting your social security "like it's money."

MSNBC Technology Writer bob Sullivan says, "Don't use it (your social security number) as a password.  Don't let companies use it as a login ID for you.  Never enter it on a website, no matter how many times the website asks you," he said.

Filing your taxes early (before a scam artist) might also protect you and your money.

The government is adding security software to pick up any name and address mismatches.  The IRS is also hoping to check returns against W-2 forms before your check goes out rather than after. 

But despite all of these efforts to stop scammers, the IRS say it can be tough to separate real returns from the fakes.

"Millions of taxpayers move every year.  Millions of taxpayers have children.  Millions of taxpayers change jobs.  And so we have to go through the process of validating, are you really who you say you are?" said Beth Tucker the Deputy IRS Commissioner.

In 2011, the IRS says it stopped phony claims for $1.4 billion in refunds.

If your social security number has been stolen, contact the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Fraud Protection Hotline at - 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338).

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