Steps to protect your tax refund

This IRS amped up their efforts to stop criminals from filing fraudulent returns during the 2017 filing season, but Channel 2 consumer advisor Clark Howard says there are things you can do to protect yourself as well.

First, you need to make sure you hire a legitimate tax preparer, something Shantell Hall wishes she had done.

After filing her taxes with a tax preparer that offered a cheap rate, her identity was stolen.

“Things started to appear on my credit that I did not recognize.” Hall explained

Then, her daughter’s identity was stolen and used to claim the earned income tax credit on fraudulent returns.

“I was just devastated,” Hall said “The thing that was so fearful for me was the vulnerability of my daughter’s information.”

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Tax expert Buffie Purselle says vetting the individuals you choose to handle your taxes is imperative.

“I would suggest using the irs.gov website.” said Purselle

On the site, you’ll find a list of tax professionals in your area with credentials recognized by the IRS.

“There are so many people out there who are deciding that they are tax accountants because of the ease of tax software,” Purselle explained. “The problem is they are not safeguarding your tax information and that leads to fraud.”

She also recommends freezing your credit and applying for an IP PIN with the IRS. The six-digit number will prevent criminals from filing your return before you do.

Clark says that to avoid the headache of waiting for your return because someone beat you to it, reduce your withholding at work so there’s not a lot of return you are waiting for.

“This year, there's an even more important reason for you to reduce your withholding and get a smaller refund,” said Howard, “because even if nobody is messing around with your return, refunds are taking longer this year because your tax return is going through additional steps to make sure as best they can at taxing authorities you're not a fraudster."