By Ian Schwartz

ELK GROVE (CBS13) — Thieves are targeting mailboxes in search of tax documents to help them file fake returns and steal people’s tax refunds.

Nearly a dozen cities have been hit in the past few weeks, and if the crooks got their hands on a W-2, they have everything they need to file a tax return in someone else’s name and claim their money.

The U.S. Postal Service says Elk Grove has seen the most recent mail thefts.

Janet Delgadillo lives near a mailbox cluster that was ripped open a couple of weeks ago on Glacier Park Way.

“It looked like they had some kind of screwdriver thing and worked it,” she said.

A neighbor’s surveillance camera caught the crooks in the act in the middle of the night. They pulled up in a car and tried jimmying open the boxes.

“That seems really scary, because you don’t know who’s looking at your stuff,” she said.

The Postal Service is investigating more than 50 reports of mail theft in Elk Grove alone, and other cases up and down the Central Valley.

“If I have your number and I file before you, chances are I will be the one that will see the refund,” said tax expert George de la Mora.

He says even if your W-2 was stolen, and you’re a victim of identity theft, you can still get your refund. You need to file a police report and ask your employer for a new W-2.

“Submit a paper return with the W-2 and a letter explaining what happened,” he said.

He says the IRS will open an investigation to find the identity thieves. Next year, the IRS will also give you a special code to use on tax returns next year.

“That means that you’ve gone through this process and you’ve been subjected to the identity theft so it protects you in the future also,” he said.

The post office says if you use a cluster box to be sure to get the mail every day.

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