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GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- Here's a good reason to file your taxes early: identity theft that leads thieves to steal your tax refund. Pat Miles, the U.S. Attorney for Western Michigan, says it's a "rampant" problem, up 60% from last year.

What often happens is someone gets a hold of your social security number, either by stealing your wallet or through an online phishing scheme where you click on a fraudulent email that sends your sensitive financial data to a cyber-thief.

The thief files your taxes and then collects your refund.

Miles said fraudsters have been making phone calls to vulnerable people, purporting to be with the Internal Revenue Service. "They're threatening people-- recent immigrants-- they're threatening them with deportation if they don't pay their taxes immediately to a prepad debit card or wiring funds-- they're very belligerent."

The IRS says it never demands payment in that manner and almost always makes first contact with someone via U.S. mail.

IRS official Carolyn Weber says her agency is working "around the clock" to combat the tax fraud she says hurts every honest taxpayer and robs the government of needed money.

"It's not a matter of if we find you, it's when we find you, and you'll go to jail for a long time" Weber said Thursday.

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