(WHDH) — The Better Business Bureau is warning the public of con artists who are using the Social Security numbers of unsuspecting Americans to file phony tax returns and steal their refunds.

Scammers claiming to be with Internal Revenue Service are contacting potential victims by email and by phone in an effort to obtain personal information, such as Social Security numbers, addresses, and birth dates, according to the BBB. Sometimes scammers file in the name of a deceased person or steal children’s identities to claim them as dependents.

Experts are urging the public to file as early as possible to avoid falling victim to the scam, among other things.

The BBB shared the following tips on how to avoid tax ID theft scams:

  • File early. The best way to avoid tax identity theft is to file your taxes as early as possible before a scammer has the chance to use your information.
  • Watch out for red flags. If you receive written notice from the IRS about a duplicate return, respond promptly. You may also receive an IRS notice stating that you’ve received wages from somewhere you never worked, or receive other notices that don’t actually apply to you. Another big red flag is if you receive a notice that “you owe additional tax, refund offset or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return” (IRS). Contact the IRS if you have any suspicions that a return has been filed in your name.
  • Protect your Social Security number. Don’t give out your SSN unless there’s a good reason, and you’re sure who you’re giving it to.
  • Research your tax preparer. Make sure your tax preparer is trustworthy before handing over your personal information.
  • If you are a victim of ID theft, consider getting an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN). This is a six-digit number, which, in addition to your Social Security number, confirms your identity. Once you apply, you must provide the IP Pin each year when you file your federal tax returns. Visit IRS.gov for more information.

If you think you have fallen victim to a scammer, contact the IRS at 1-800-908-4490.

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