Published: Jan 08, 2014 5:52 PM EST
Updated: Jan 08, 2014 5:54 PM EST

FORT MYERS, Fla. - The IRS says there's been a big jump in crooks stealing Social Security numbers.

"Why are you gonna rob a bank when you can sit in your living room with your laptop and eat some popcorn and steal money," said fraud expert Nicole Waid with Roetzel & Andress.

Waid says scammers have learned using your Social Security number before you do can get them a big tax return.

"Get it in early. Don't wait. Don't delay,"said Beth Schell with the Lee County Sheriff's office.

This year the IRS says it's expecting to issue more than 9 out of 10 refunds in less then 21 days. 

"We're all about convenience so what want everything quick we want it now and we want to do it online," Schell said.

But this quick turn around time is giving scammers the upper hand.

"The admin side of the IRS wants to get them out as quickly as possible. But that seems to be breeding fraud," Waid said.

Since 2012, the IRS launched nearly 1,500 criminal investigations, a 66% increase from the year before and flagged $14.6 million suspicious returns. They blocked $50 billion in fake refunds.

Beth Schell with the Lee County Sheriff's Office says locally they've seen a dramatic increase over the past few years...

"On the fraud line, we've tripled the numbers," said Schell.

29-year old Joey Jones knows first hand what it feels like to file his taxes after crook already did.

"It's been a nightmare," he said.

Two years ago, he filed his claim, only to find out someone beat him to it.

"I don't know who you paid or what you paid but it wasn't me. So at that point I knew something had happened," Jones said.

Today, it's still a headache as he tries to clear up the confusion and get his money back.

"They said it would take 6 months to a year. To years later I'm still working on it," he said.

So how can you prevent this kind of fraud? Experts say shred any sensitive documents, secure your computer network and file as soon as possible.