We’ve seen this all too often lately: A tax professional e-files a federal income tax return on behalf of a client, but instead of a confirmation, the IRS sends a rejection notice. The reason? That return has already been filed –by an apparent fraudster who is out to receive a false refund.

This type of identity theft is on the rise. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that the IRS found nearly 580,000 returns claiming more than $3.6 billion in fraudulent refunds during the 2013 filing season.

Identity theft is not limited to large cities or other parts of the country. It is happening in places like Rapid City, Spearfish, Custer and Williston. At Ketel Thorstenson, we have seen a recent trend that seems to target medical professionals. It’s especially vexing for victims of identity theft: they have to go through a lengthy process to prove they are who they say they are.

To prevent identity theft, guard your personal information as if your livelihood depended on it, especially your social security number. If you get an email that seems to be from the IRS seeking information, don’t respond. The IRS does not send out emails; the IRS uses the U.S. Mail. What else can you do?

  • Change your passwords and pins regularly.
  • Make your passwords unique, and avoid using kids’ names, pet names or social security numbers. Instead, use a mix of numbers and characters that are at least seven characters long.
  • Avoid using the same password for all of your online activity.
  • Memorize your passwords; don’t write them down.
  • Be aware of “phishing.” This is when legitimate websites are copied and used to create phony sites in order to obtain confidential information.
  • Monitor your bank account and credit cards regularly.
  • Never provide personal information on the phone or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact.
  • Don’t use a debit or credit card online unless you have initiated the purchase, and be sure it’s a secure, encrypted system. (Look for the “https” in the internet address.)