Tax season is just around the corner, and taxpayers can start filing their returns as early as January 31st. As taxpayers are preparing their returns, scammers and identity thieves lurk in the background. Unfortunately, as recently seen on Tax Defense Network’s Facebook page, with tax season comes identity theft and tax return fraud.

“It is during tax season that scammers use your personal information to commit return fraud,” explains Lori Hall at Tax Defense Network. “This means they’ll file a tax return under your SSN [Social Security Number] before you get a chance to, and then claim the refund. You only realize that someone has done this after you submit your own tax return and the IRS sends you a letter letting you know two returns have been filed under your number.”

Identity theft is an increasing problem, and identity theft prevention and prosecution is a top priority at the IRS. In 2013, the IRS initiated almost 1,500 identity theft related criminal cases, a 66% increase compared to 2012. In addition, indictments and sentencing doubled in 2013 with an average prison sentence of over 3 years.

The IRS has expanded its efforts to protect taxpayers and help those who have fallen victim, training over 35,000 employees to work with taxpayers to recognize the signs of identity theft and to help those who’ve fallen victim. However, since scam artists will continue to create new ways of stealing taxpayer information, taxpayers should take it upon themselves to take every means necessary to protect their personal and financial information.

“Take protecting your information very seriously,” Lori at Tax Defense Network advises. “Scammers don’t just use your information to commit tax fraud; they’ll take out credit in your name or drain your bank account. It’s a nightmare to sort out.”

Tax Defense Network recommends that taxpayers set up firewalls and anti-spam and virus software on their computers to prevent identity thieves from gaining access to their information. It is also important to periodically change internet account passwords. Taxpayers should remember that the IRS never asks for personal information over email or text and does not initiate contact over the phone. In addition, it is advisable not to give personal information over the phone or through the internet unless you are absolutely sure you can trust the person or persons on the other end.

“Always always always think twice before sharing your SSN with anyone,” Lori adds on Tax Defense Network’s LinkedIn profile. “You should also keep any documents with your personal or financial information in a safe place. You would not want the wrong person to get their hands on them.”

Tax Defense Network is a national tax resolution company with an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. Its team of licensed tax professionals, enrolled agents, CPAs, and even an ex-IRS agent works to resolve the tax problems of individuals and small businesses across the country.