A story in the Madison Courier on Monday reported that the Indiana Department of Revenue is warning Hoosiers about the rising number of identity thefts linked to tax returns.

The state started processing income tax returns last Friday.

Here's the problem: Someone files a false tax return using another's personal information - like a Social Security number - to get a tax refund from the IRS.

About 8.6 million households experienced some type of ID fraud in 2010, according to the Bureau of Justice. And once you're a victim, you have an uphill battle to reclaim what's rightfully yours. With that in mind, it's best to protect yourself and not become a victim in the first place. These tips from the Federal Trade Commission are a good place to start:

• Lock your financial documents and records in a safe place at home.

• Limit what you carry. When you go out, take only the identification, credit and debit cards you need. Leave your Social Security card at home.

• Before you share information at your workplace, a business, your child's school, or a doctor's office, ask why they need it, how they will safeguard it, and the consequences of not sharing.

• Shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and similar documents when you don't need them any longer.

• Destroy the labels on prescription bottles before you throw them out.

• Take outgoing mail to post office collection boxes or the post office. Promptly remove mail that arrives in your mailbox. If you won't be home for several days, request a vacation hold on your mail.

• Consider opting out of pre-screened offers of credit and insurance by mail. To opt out, call 1-888-567-8688 or go to optoutprescreen.com.

• Check your credit reports annually.

But if all fails and you suspect you've become a victim, notify the fraud departments of all three credit agencies, close all suspect accounts, and file a report with your local police and with police where you believe the crime occurred. You should also notify any government agencies such as the Social Security Administration.