Tax time is right around the corner and already privacy experts are bracing for a repeat of a huge problem: scammers stealing your name and social security number and using them to file false returns. A government accountability office report shows the problem is bigger than it's ever been.
Little did Debby Leopold know how frustrating it was going to be when ABC7 first met her just after Tax Day earlier this year. She was one of an exploding number of Americans who in the first nine months of this year had their tax refund hijacked by identity thieves.
"I could have to do my taxes for next year before I see my refund. I was getting frustrated. Who do you go to when you are dealing with the IRS?" asks Leopold.
She called her congressman and after Chris Van Hollen's office got involved there was progress, but it took eight months.
"I got my check the week of October 15. A few weeks after that I got a notice that not only was I getting my refund, but they'd cleared my account," she says.
Nina Patel is still waiting for hers after a scammer filed a phony tax return using her name and social security number. The situation is keeping her from refinancing her home.
In fact, a new GAO report found a 62-percent increase in tax refund ID theft in 2012, nearly 642,000 Americans falling victim.
"I am worried somebody's going to do this again," says Patel. "Obviously my social security number and name, it's out there. Who knows who is going to use it again."
"I think there is a high likelihood that they'll see repeat situations until the IRS has flagged the account and is dealt with and again, that could take a year, that could take longer," says Ed Goodman, the Chief Privacy Officer at Identity Theft 911.
He recommends filing as early as you can and if there is a problem, report it quickly.
"It's pretty well known the IRS is pretty out-gunned and undermanned in dealing with this problem," he says.
The IRS tells ABC7 they know there is a problem and are working on it. This year, the agency will give 600,000 ID theft victims a special pin number to use when filing.