LAS VEGAS (KSNV & MyNews3) -- We're about a month away from the tax deadline. For those who haven't done their taxes, the IRS has an incentive -- get your refund before the crooks do.
In this Crime Tracker 3 trend, News 3 learned refund fraud is on the rise.
The IRS says last year they looked into almost 1,500 identity theft cases. This was a 66-percent increase from 2012.
Getting personal information is easy according to the IRS. Medical offices, nursing homes, even tax preparers have been sources for criminals.
A north las vegas man sits in federal prison for stealing identities and tax refunds from people between 2008 and 2009.
IRS investigators say Joseph Austin had names, social security numbers and birth dates and, in one case, even a driver's license number.
He used this information to file taxes and receive refunds between 2009 and 2010. The indictment shows the refunds were worth thousands of dollars.
"Numerours returns were filed from the address, numbers refund were sent to the address," said Sam holland with the IRS. "We knocked on his door and lo and behold, lots of debit cards in people's names, correspondence with other names. even a log book to track this stuff."
Austin received this information from an unnamed tax preparer.
According to court documents, the tax preparer wasn't charged and it's not clear if he or she knew of the theft. That's unfortunately something that's common too.
Doctors offices, dentists, nursing homes - anywhere you have a database where you can get to.
If they can be bribed, they can get information.
“I went to apply for a couple of credit cards and got declined,” said fraud victim John Becker.
In our rip off alert series, we have shown you how victims can sometimes learn of the scam after they've been hit.
Sometimes that's the case with refund fraud but the IRS says they have so-called service centers which scan returns, addresses -- tools to spot criminal activity. Even too many returns can raise a red flag.
As for Austin, he took a plea deal last year and was sentenced to four years in prison plus 3 years of supervised release.
He also had to pay restitution pf almost $65,000.