Published: Jan 15, 2014 8:30 PM EST
Updated: Jan 16, 2014 10:29 PM EST

COLLIER COUNTY, Fla.- "File you're return as soon as you can."

That's the mantra for this upcoming tax season. As you get ready to file your 2013 return, Carrie Kerskie, an identity theft expert based in Southwest Florida, has a warning. She said the bad guys are one step ahead of you.

"Because they know that the IRS has not received your information from employers, and that the w2, the 1099s, they know they don't have that information, so theres no checks and balances so they'll go in and start fraudulently filing," said Kerskie.

Oftentimes you won't even know it happened until you try to file it yourself.

"The online filing system seems to have made this problem explode because it was easier for criminals."

According to new numbers from the Federal Trade Commission, Florida has the nation's highest rate of identity theft. Miami leads the state, followed by Naples, Tampa, and Fort Myers. But can you totally protect your personal information from crooks?

"To prevent it from happening right now, it's impossible."

She said there are many ways thieves can get your social security number. That's why her advice is to be as vigilant as possible.

"Monitor your credit cards, monitor your bank statements, monitor your credit reports."

Because Kerskie said the impacts of identity theft can last a lifetime.

"If they have enough information to file a tax return, they have enough information to assume your entire identity," said Kerskie.