Identity thieves are using stolen social security numbers to file the fraudulent tax returns.
Cooper said consumers usually don't know that they're a victim of the scam until they try to file their tax returns and learn from the Internal Revenue Service that someone has already filed in their name and claimed their refund.
"They break into a database of a business or searching your trash can to find information you tossed in the trash can. There are a lot of things you can do to protect yourself, but sometimes, you're a victim and you haven't done anything to cause the problem," Cooper explained.
If you suspect that someone has falsely filed taxes in your name; contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit immediately at (800) 908-4490, check your credit reports for any unauthorized activity, request a fraud alert from any of the three national credit bureaus, consider a security freeze to stop access to new credit in your name or file an ID theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
Cooper also urged consumers not to fall for scammers who send emails claiming to come from the IRS.
One phony email reported to Cooper's office included a very official looking IRS logo and claimed that the recipient owed a $10,000 "penalty for not filing the income tax return prior to January 31, 2012." The message said that the penalty may be waived and prompted the consumer to click on a link and enter a website for more information.
Other fraudulent emails told people that they were owed money by the IRS and asked them to provide their bank account number so they could receive a refund. The real IRS does not contact taxpayers by email.
Cooper said if you get a phishing email, do not respond, click on any links or provide any personal information. Phishing emails that claim to come from the IRS should be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org. Other phishing emails can be forwarded to the Federal Trade Commission at email@example.com.
Learn more at www.irs.gov/identitytheft.