HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Scammers have been busy this tax season -- filing fake returns.
Experts say victims don't know they've been ripped off until their real return is rejected because a scammer already filed one using their information.
Last year, more than 9,000 bogus returns were filed in Hawaii, totaling more than $20 million.
Among the scamming victims this year: Scotty Gedding, who got an unexpected letter in the mail from the IRS over the weekend.
"It says to protect you from identity theft we need to verify your identity before processing the return," Gedding said. "I was a little perplexed because I had not filled out or filed my taxes yet."
The letter said someone had filed a tax return with his name and Social Security number on it.
According to the IRS, the scam is nothing new.
The government says it's been getting hit with identity tax refund fraud since 2008. Millions of Americans have been victims and thieves are getting away with billions of dollars each year.
"Each year they try to change the way they file and they use the same stolen identity and they change up how they do it and the amount of refunds, maybe the employer, the W2 information that they send in," said Mallory Fujitani, Hawaii Department of Taxation spokeswoman.
Fujitani says the best way to protect yourself is to file as early as possible.
"Especially if you have been a victim of identity theft or you think someone has been using your identity it's best to file early because we want to make sure we have the real taxpayer filing," said Fujitani.
Officials say victims will eventually be reimbursed, but it can involve lots of paperwork and months of waiting.
For Gedding, that tedious process has just begun.
"I keep going to this identification thing online and it keeps saying it can't identify me. I keep calling and I'm on hold for 45 minutes to an hour," he said.
If a bogus return has been filed using your information, the IRS says you will have to file a paper return if you are unable to file electronically.
You should complete and file a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, with your paper tax return. Your case will go to the Identity Theft Victim Assistance unit, where it will be handled by employees with specialized training.