ALBANY — Local law enforcement agencies have received reports of about 20 instances of identity theft tax fraud, where culprits use stolen Social Security numbers to file false returns — and possibly get refund checks.

Linn County Sheriff’s Office had 11 such reports as of Wednesday afternoon, including four on tax day itself, Sgt. Flint LeBard said.

He added that his agency was alerted to the new crime trend earlier in the month, after a deputy called the Internal Revenue Service about a case.

“Washington (state) was having big issues with it. They were really getting hammered,” LeBard said.

Lebanon Police Department had five such cases in April as of Wednesday afternoon, according to agency data.

Albany Police Department had received reports of three instances of tax fraud within the last week, Detective Sgt. Steve Dorn said.

According to the Lebanon Police Department, tax forms can be like a gold mine for thieves because they include Social Security numbers and, in some cases, financial account information.

Such personal information can be used by a crook to open up new lines of credit, access existing financial accounts or stock portfolios, get welfare, avoid a criminal history and more.

The agency encouraged residents to make sure all tax documents and paperwork are in a locked location at all times, and to put documents no longer needed through a cross-cut shredder.

Law enforcement also has seen increases in vehicle break-ins to steal documents which can be used to commit identity theft, according to the Lebanon Police Department.

Other suggestions were to make sure computers are protected by security programs, and to burn electronic tax filings to a CD or flash drive, keeping that in a secure storage location, rather than storing it on a hard drive.

Mailing tax documents at the post office, and making sure to retrieve mail every day at home, also can deter identity theft.

Police also cautioned people against conducting any financial business in supermarkets or other public concession booths where others might hear or see a transaction.

If you receive an e-mail asking for your Social Security number or financial information, delete it or send it to the Federal Trade Commission for investigation.

The IRS does not send e-mails about people being electronically audited or that you are getting a refund.

Those with suspicions about an e-mail from the IRS should call the IRS Taxpayers Advocates at 877-777-4778.

If you are the a victim of tax fraud, the IRS might send a notice indicating that more than one person is using a Social Security number, or that you owe taxes. If this happens, call the IRS Taxpayer Advocates or the Identity Theft Resource Center at 858-693-7935 for assistance.

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