Nightly News | February 26, 2012
>>> it is only late february, but it is never too early for a lot of folks to start thinking about filing their tax returns . and this year we can add one more reason to get it done early. tech savvy thieves going after your money. as our justice correspondent pete williams reports tonight, if you don't file soon, someone else may end up getting the refund you're expecting.
>> that's my baby.
>> reporter: bart cohen, a retired miami police officer, only recently got his tax refund . not from this year, from last year, expecting a $4,000 refund, he was stunned to discover that someone else beat him to it.
>> it is just a huge nightmare that you just can't believe it is happening.
>> reporter: it took months to straighten it out with the irs , all that time without his refund.
>> i'm retired and disabled, so we live paycheck to paycheck. and it is important that the money is there for us.
>> reporter: the crime of stealing someone's identity to get a tax refund from the irs has exploded, from nearly 49,000 cases two years ago to more than 260,000 a year now. last year alone, the irs says it stopped phony claims for $1.4 billion in refunds. in florida, police say it is sweeping the streets like a drug epidemic, entire rooms of people using tax filing software armed with sotolen social security numbers , the key to the scam. they buy expensive cars, jewelry and clothes. the government says it is putting in more trip wires, such as name and address mismatches, but the deputy irs commissioner says it is hard to separate honest record changes from dishonest ones.
>> millions of taxpayers move over year. millions of taxpayers, you know, have children. millions of taxpayers change jobs. and so we have to go through the process of validating are you really who you say you are.
>> reporter: the irs is also hoping to check returns against w-2 pay forms more quickly, something it doesn't do now until after refund checks go out. so how to protect yourself, the experts stress safeguarding your social security number above all.
>> don't use it as a password. don't let companies use it as a log-in i.d. for you. never enter it on a website, no matter how many times a website asks you. protect that social security number like it is money because it is.
>> reporter: and the most important tip, file early, so you get your refund before someone else does. pete williams , nbc news, washington.