Never before have taxpayers been such targets for fraud. Crooks are filing phony tax returns, using other people's Social Security numbers to collect refunds. Victims often find out only after filing their taxes and learning from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that it's already received "your" return — and sent "you" a refund. And that's not the only scam going.

“Scams can be sophisticated and take many forms," says IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. Thieves use various methods to intercept private information from victims' computers or dupe people into surrendering the information voluntarily. "We urge people to protect themselves and use caution when viewing e-mails, receiving telephone calls or getting advice on tax issues," says Koskinen.

Once a crook has your Social Security number, getting the rest of the information they need to commit fraud is rather simple.

Here are seven tips for filing your taxes safely.

1. Guard your Social Security number. Just because someone asks for it doesn't mean you have to give it to them. Make sure you understand why it is needed, what it will be used for and how it will be safeguarded. Also, don’t carry your Social Security card with you.

2. File early. The IRS and tax experts say that one of the best ways to defend against tax-filing fraud is to beat the crooks to the punch. If you file before they do, they can't put in their phony claims for a refund.

3. Protect your computers. Install antivirus software that protects against malware, and update the software regularly. Use it to run a full scan of your computer before doing your taxes to ensure there are no viruses on the machine. Technically savvy criminals can plant malicious software that can capture your passwords and financial information.

4. Go beyond virus protection. In addition to protecting yourself against evil software, make sure your own software is up to date.be sure other components on your computer are up to date. For example, your tax-filing software likely uses Adobe Flash. If so, download the latest version. Likewise, if you're using an old browser, install the latest update to avoid potentially opening the door to crooks.

5. Be alert to phone and email requests. Your phone, cable, electric, or credit card company will never call or email you asking for your social security number. The best defense against scammers who try to get your SSN this way is to never give out any personal information unless you are the one who initiated the conversation. If there is some question as to whether a call or email is legitimate, contact the institution yourself by looking up the phone number on a bill or the Internet. Note that these scams are getting more convincing. After several major data breaches in the last few years (at retailers like Target, Home Depot and TJX Cos Inc), crooks have enough of many people's personal information — names, addresses, financial information — to make a scam pitch believable.  

6. Hang up if the "IRS" calls asking for money. One of the most common ways taxpayers have been taken in recently is through calls purporting to be from the IRS threatening jail or fines for not immediately paying a supposedly overdue tax bill. The IRS doesn't make such calls. No government agency will ever call you and tell you payment must be made immediately by transferring cash via Western Union or MoneyGram or by using a prepaid debit card. Such requests are a sure sign you're being scammed. Complaints about fraudsters posing as IRS officials rose by 2,300 percent in 2014, according to the Federal Trade Commission, so watch out. 

7. All wireless is not created equal. When you're using a wireless connection, make sure it's secure and encrypted. Never transmit personal information, like tax information, over a public WiFi network.

Mitch Lipka is a consumer columnist and product safety expert. He was the 2011 recipient of the "Kids Best Friend Award" from Kids In Danger for his commitment to reporting on children’s product safety.