The Missoula County Sheriff's office received a call earlier this week from a couple who discovered their identities had been stolen when they attempted to file their income tax returns.

Missoula CPA Walt Kero, with Kero, Byington and Associates said the problem of identity theft has become rampant in the last few years.

"When you try to file your taxes electronically, the computer tilts, and it won't accept your return because you can only file one return with one Social Security number," Kero said. "Here's what the policy is with the IRS. You have to go to the IRS, show them proof of your identification, not once but twice, to prove that you are who you say you are, and then you can file a paper return."

Kero said the IRS will then provide the taxpayer with a different method of identification.

"The IRS will then contact you and issue you a special personal identification number, so that in the future, you can file electronically," he said.

The taxpayer is not responsible for the illegal refund sent to the identity thief, which, Kero says, is costing the United States government billions of dollars every year.

One method taxpayers are using is called a 'credit freeze', according to the Federal Trade Commission, in which individuals can contact the three major credit reporting agencies and authorize them to not issue credit checks except to trusted sources.

Kero also suggests a membership in Lifelock, the identity theft protection service.

"It's $40 a year, but it may be a cheap insurance policy," he said.