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A little known trick to protect yourself from tax fraud

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) - April 15 is just a couple of weeks away and a lot of people who file at the last minute are about to discover thieves have beaten them to it. But there is a little known way in which just about anyone can protect themselves – for free.

For many people, one of the biggest frustrations during tax season is getting their return filed on time. But lately, another big concern is getting them sent in before identity thieves file for you and steal your refund.

But if you sign up for an online account with the IRS, someone pretending to be you will need a lot more information than just your name, date of birth, and Social Security Number to file a false return. By creating a web account, you’ll get emails whenever something is happening with your taxes.

Miles Whitener wishes he would have thought to create an account with the IRS. He just found out a thief has already filed a false return under his name.

"Lo and behold, up pops this 1040A return for 2014 on me and my wife, and I haven't filed for 2014 yet," said Whitener, who made the discovery over the weekend while looking online for information about his previous return.

The Missouri attorney general’s office says filing your taxes as early as possible will often prevent a thief from being able to steal your refund.

"It is helpful in that the IRS can assure itself that you are indeed the taxpayer and if you get there first and you are registered first, you are the appropriate taxpayer to deal with and subsequent filings and claims made on your behalf will be denied," said Joe Bindbeutel, Chief Counsel for the Consumer Protection Division of the Missouri attorney general's office.

Along with being a good way to check past returns, having an IRS web account will also keep you up to date on what's happening with your taxes now.

"The earlier in the tax season you can file, the less likely someone will have headed you off at the pass and filed on your behalf fraudulently; so file early and file electronically is our best advice," Bindbeutel said.

The Missouri attorney general's office has already received 388 complaints about tax return fraud since January.

The IRS estimates it will lose $21 billion this year to tax refund theft.

“The fact that someone can steal a couple of pieces of information and file electronically and steal money from the government and hassle your life, that is maddening,” Whitener said. "These guys have already been ahead of me, they have already filed, and now I can't file electronically. Now it is going to take six months to do our tax return."

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