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The IRS has opened the doors to begin receiving 2016 tax returns, but some early filers may find they are left waiting weeks before their refund arrives. That's thanks to a new law intended to reduce cases of tax fraud.

Refundable tax credits are prime targets for fraud. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015, more commonly called the PATH Act, made a number of changes to the tax law. The provision that will affect some taxpayers most immediately and directly is how the IRS handles early tax returns claiming the earned income tax credit or the additional child tax credit. The earliest any refund will be issued for these returns is Feb. 15.

Nate Smith, director at financial firm CBIZ MHM, says these credits can result in taxpayers receiving thousands of dollars back from the government, making them a prime target for scammers. "Anytime you involve a credit that's refundable, there's heightened interest for [fraud]," he says.

That fraud comes at a sizable cost for the government. IRS officials told Congress last April that they had identified more than 42,000 fraudulent returns in the first two months of the 2016 filing season. "It wasn't one or two people, but it was large, organized fraud," says Jim Daniels, managing director with UHY Advisors in Albany, New York. Those returns were trying to claim $227 million in refunds.

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