By Jim Donovan

By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Have you filed your tax return yet? If not, you may want to file it soon.

Because as 3 On Your Side consumer reporter Jim Donovan finds, the longer you wait, the more chances you have in becoming a victim of tax return fraud.

Credit cards, medical records, student records, bank loans, job applications, they all have your social security number and are places thieves look to steal them.

“I don’t know how this could have happened,” said Appolonia Bullard.

Someone used Bullard’s stolen social security number to file a fake tax return.

“it’s not their money. It makes me very angry,” said Bullard.

And she’s not alone.

“We’re seeing an increase in this because the criminal element if you will have figured out what a lucrative and easy way of making money this is, said fraud expert William Kresse.

In the first six months of last year 1.9 million taxpayers were victims of identity theft. Compared to 2011 when there were about a million.

“If you have a social security number. If you have personal information you’re at risk of becoming a victim,” said tax advocate Jacquelyn Crossley Smith.

But Smith says you can minimize the risk.

-Never carry your social security card in your wallet.

-Don’t give anyone your number without checking their credentials.

-And, once your tax preparer finishes your taxes keep your original documents.

But the number one thing you should do is file fast.

“Identity thieves tend to file as early as they possibly can. When the actual taxpayer files, it’s too late,” said Smith.

And fighting tax return fraud can take time. Although the IRS detects and prevents a large amount of bogus returns, they don’t catch everything.

Federal officials estimate the IRS could issue some $26 billion in fraudulent tax refund in the next few years if the agency doesn’t get a better handle on the problem.

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