CROTON-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Scammers are filing fraudulent income taxes and stealing refunds.

The key to the crime? Stolen Social Security numbers.

As CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported, a Westchester County woman, who asked to remain anonymous, went to electronically file her taxes, but a criminal beat her to it.

She said her longtime tax preparer told her “‘You are a victim of identity theft and your Social Security number was used to file.'”

The same thing happened to Tom D’Agostino, who said he never dreamed he would be taking a folder with his taxes in to the State Police to file a report.

“I had never heard of it to be honest with you,” he said.

The Cortlandt Manor resident joins dozens of neighbors who, since Friday, all filed similar reports.

“It’s somewhat soothing that you’re not the only guy out there getting it done. But it’s still an annoyance,” D’Agostino added.

“We do hear about it and unfortunately we’re hearing about it more frequently than we ever used to,” said Jessie Schmidt with the Better Business Bureau.

Consumer advocates and federal investigators said this is how it works: A fraudulent tax return is created using someone else’s stolen Social Security number. Then it’s filed electronically.

It can be done without W-2 forms from employers. Instead, scammers use an electronic filing identification number.

The money then goes to a bank card, sometimes a prepaid “Green Dot” one. And criminals get the refund.

The IRS warns to guard personal information more aggressively, but many times that’s easier said than done.

Criminals can buy data from unscrupulous workers at places we trust, including schools, hospitals, medical offices, and military bases, Carlin reported.

The victims Carlin spoke with said they don’t know exactly how their Social Security numbers were stolen or how much in refund money the scammers got from them.

Their fraudulent returns will be thrown out, and they must file their returns the old-fashioned way: on paper.

They say the IRS needs better safeguards.

“If the tax filing doesn’t match something from the previous year that should automatically send a red flag,” said one victim.

The IRS said it is stopping millions of suspicious returns every year and implemented new identity theft screening filters to spot false returns before criminals can cash in.

The IRS also said to never carry your Social Security number with you and to protect other documents that have Social Security numbers on them.

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