UPDATE: Don't become a victim of identity theft this tax season

UPDATED: Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014 --- 9:15 p.m.

Tax filing season is fast approaching. The first day the IRS will begin processing returns is Jan. 31.

This is also the time of year when more thieves are looking to steal people's personal information.

The IRS launched nearly 1500 investigations last year into identity theft--a 66 percent increase from 2012. Now, the agency, along with local departments are stepping up efforts to curb tax fraud.

Tanya Ericson, a mother of two from Columbus, is taking extra precautions when she files her taxes this winter, after she received a letter in the mail last February, saying the IRS was reviewing her returns.

"(I knew) I didn't file my taxes yet," Ericson said. "Why are they reviewing them? So I called the number and they said that nope, on Feb. 18 somebody filed electronically tax returns in my name and my social security number. So I freaked out immediately going, OK, what do I do now?"

She filed a police report, wrote a letter, and submitted her social security card and drivers license to prove someone had stolen her identity. She finally received her refund in August.

NBC15: "Do you have any idea how someone would have gotten your social security number?"

Ericson: "No, I password secure everything. I shred everything."

Sandy Chalmers with the Wis. Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection told NBC 15 thieves can access information through a number of methods. "We received a number of inquiries about this from people who had gotten those IRS letters."

"They can call you on the phone and say they're from the IRS or from Medicare and ask you for your social security number," Chalmers said. "You can be tricked into providing that kind of information online. They can go through your trash."

Her advice: file returns early on in the season, use a secure internet connection when you do, and afterward, shred any personal documents.

"And we actually just received a letter from the IRS stating we have an identity theft pin that we will have to submit with our taxes this next year so they can thoroughly review to make sure it's us actually filing again this year," Ericson said.

Posted Tuesday, January 7, 2013 --- 2:40 p.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Internal Revenue Service says there has been a big jump in thieves stealing Social Security numbers to fraudulently claim tax refunds.

The agency said it launched 1,492 criminal investigations into identity theft last year, a 66 percent increase from the year before. Prosecutions and indictments more than doubled. The numbers dwarf those from just two years ago.

In all, the agency said Tuesday it has flagged 14.6 million suspicious tax returns since 2011, blocking more than $50 billion in fraudulent refunds.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told reporters this week that stopping identity theft is a top priority for the agency. A recent inspector general's report said the IRS is stepping up efforts to fight identity theft but thieves are getting more aggressive.

Copyright 2014: Associated Press

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