By Jim Donovan

By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS)3 On Your Side has a warning about thieves who steal tax refunds. How do they do it? They file a tax return using your name and information.

Christopher Howard of Audubon was eager to file his federal return last year. He was expecting a refund check. He headed over to his accountant’s office.

He said, “They punched in my information and my Social Security number, and they said, ‘It’s already been filed…'”

But not by him!  An identity thief had somehow filed a return electronically using his Social Security number, and had the refund check mailed to another address.

“I was heartbroken for him,” said Melissa Howard, Christopher’s mother. “I didn’t know what to do for him. Nobody did.”

Christopher is just one of a growing number of victims of identity thieves stealing people’s tax refunds.

Another viewer sent us a copy of a refund check written to her but sent to another address and cashed by another person. That’s $8000, gone.

The IRS is trying to get the word out on YouTube in English and Spanish. The IRS says it opened nearly 900 identity theft investigations in 2012 and issued nearly 500 indictments against people like Alci Bonannee of Fort Lauderdale. She was convicted of running a crew that filed more than a thousand false returns in a scheme to steal more than $9 million.

Protect yourself: Watch your credit reports. Guard your Social Security number.  Check your mail for your W-2. And file your return early before a thief can.

Christopher had to file an affidavit with the IRS saying he’s a victim of identity theft. The IRS told 3 On Your Side it can’t share information about his case with us. It’s been more than a year and still no refund.

“And I just hope that you can make people more aware,” Christopher said.

If you suspect a tax return was filed in your name fraudulently, contact the IRS right away so it can start investigating.

Click here for more information about identity theft and tax refund fraud:

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