Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. It presents challenges to individuals, businesses, organizations and government agencies, including the IRS.
Learning that you are a victim of identity theft can be a stressful event. In many cases, you may not be aware that someone has stolen your identity and the IRS may be the first to let you know you’re a victim of identity theft after you try to file your taxes.
Between 2015 and 2018, the number of taxpayers reporting they were identity theft victims fell 71 percent. However, despite the steep drop in tax-related identity theft in recent years, taxpayers should remember that identity thieves constantly strive to find new schemes that work. Once their ruse begins to fail as taxpayers become aware of their ploys, they change tactics. Taxpayers and tax professionals must remain vigilant to the various scams and schemes used for data thefts.
Here’s what you should know about identity theft:
1. Protect your Records. Do not carry your Social Security card or other documents with your SSN (Social Security Number) on them. Only provide your SSN if it’s necessary and you know the person requesting it. Treat your personal information, including tax returns, as if they were cash. Don’t leave it in plain sight for people to steal. Protect your computers with anti-spam and anti-virus software and routinely change passwords for all of your Internet accounts.
2. Don’t Fall for Scams. Criminals often try to impersonate your bank, credit card company, and even the IRS in order to steal your personal data. Learn to recognize and avoid those fake emails and texts. Always err on the side of caution and delete anything that seems suspicious or unfamiliar.
3. Beware of Threatening Phone Calls. Correspondence from the IRS is always in the form of a letter in the mail. The IRS will not call you threatening a lawsuit, arrest, or to demand an immediate tax payment using a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer. If you receive a suspicious or threatening phone call, hang up immediately.
4. Report ID Theft to Law Enforcement. If you discover that a tax return was already filed using your SSN and cannot e-file your return because, consider taking the following steps:
- File your taxes by paper and pay any taxes owed.
- File an IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit (see below). Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions.
- Contact one of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Transunion, and Experian) to place a fraud alert and/or a credit freeze on your account.
5. Complete an IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. Once you’ve filed a police report, file an IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions. You may include it with your paper tax return as well.
6. IRS Notices and Letters. If the IRS identifies a suspicious tax return with your SSN, it may send you a letter asking you to verify your identity by calling a special number or visiting a Taxpayer Assistance Center. This is to protect you from tax-related identity theft.
7. IP PINs. If a taxpayer reports that they are a victim of ID theft or the IRS identifies a taxpayer as being a victim, he or she will be issued an IP PIN (Identity Protection Personal Identification Number). The IP PIN is a unique six-digit number that a victim of ID theft uses to file a tax return. Each year, you will receive an IRS letter with a new IP PIN.
8. Data Breaches. Not every identity theft case involves taxes. If you learn about a data breach that may have compromised your personal information, keep in mind that not every data breach results in identity theft. Make sure you know what kind of information has been stolen so you can take the appropriate steps before contacting the IRS.
9. Report Suspicious Activity. If you suspect or know of an individual or business that is committing tax fraud, you can report it on the IRS.gov website.
10. IRS Assistance. Information about tax-related identity theft is available online at IRS.gov. The IRS has a special section on IRS.gov devoted to identity theft and a phone number available for victims to obtain assistance.