Identity Theft and Tax Returns: Tips for Taxpayers

Refund fraud caused by identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes nationwide. Learn more about what the IRS is doing to protect your identity.

Stopping refund fraud related to identity theft is a top priority for the IRS. With more than 3,000 employees working on identity theft cases, the IRS is focused on preventing, detecting and resolving identity theft cases as soon as possible and has trained more than 35,000 employees to work with taxpayers to recognize and provide assistance when identity theft occurs.

Taxpayers might encounter identity theft involving their tax returns in several ways. One possible scenario is where identity thieves try filing fraudulent refund claims using another person's identifying information, which has been stolen.

Here are some tips to protect you from becoming a victim, and steps to take if you think someone may have filed a tax return using your name:

Tips to protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft

  • Don't carry your Social Security card or any documents that include your Social Security number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
  • Don't give a business your SSN or ITIN just because they ask. Give it only when required.
  • Protect your financial information.
  • Check your credit report every 12 months.
  • Secure personal information in your home.
  • Protect your personal computers by using firewalls and anti-spam/virus software, updating security patches and changing passwords for Internet accounts.
  • Don't give personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or you are sure you know who you are dealing with.
  • If your tax records are not currently affected by identity theft, but you believe you may be at risk due to a lost or stolen purse or wallet, questionable credit card activity or credit report, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490, extension 245 (Monday - Friday, 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. local time; Alaska and Hawaii follow Pacific time).

    Be alert to possible identity theft if you receive a notice from the IRS, if you believe you're a victim of identity theft, or if you learn from your tax professional that:

  • More than one tax return for you was filed;
  • You have a balance due, refund offset or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return;
  • IRS records indicate you received more wages than you actually earned or
  • Your state or federal benefits were reduced or cancelled because the agency received information reporting an income change.
  • If you receive a notice from the IRS and suspect your identity has been used fraudulently, respond immediately by calling the number on the notice. Please call us if you're not sure what to do or would like assistance with this.

    If you did not receive an IRS notice but believe you've been the victim of identity theft, contact us or contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit directly at 800-908-4490, extension 245.

    Also, you will need to fill out the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039. Please write legibly and follow the directions on the back of the form that relate to your specific circumstances. If you need help filling out this form, don't hesitate to give us a call.

    We also recommend that you take additional steps with agencies outside the IRS such as:

  • Reporting incidents of identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.ftc.gov or the FTC Identity Theft hotline at 877-438-4338 or TTY 866-653-4261.
  • Filing a report with the local police.
  • Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
  • Contacting the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus:
  • Equifax - www.equifax.com, 800-525-6285
  • Experian - www.experian.com, 888-397-3742
  • TransUnion - www.transunion.com, 800-680-7289
  • If you have reported an identity theft case to the IRS and are waiting for your federal tax refund, be assured that the IRS is working to speed up and further streamline identity theft case resolution to help innocent taxpayers.

    In many instances, these are extremely complex cases to resolve, frequently touching on multiple issues and multiple tax years and cases of resolving identity can be complicated by the thieves themselves contacting the IRS.

    Due to the complexity of the situation, this is a time-consuming process. Taxpayers are likely to see their refunds delayed for an extended period of time while we take the necessary actions to resolve the matter. A typical case can take about 180 days to resolve, and the IRS is working to reduce that time period.

    Also, please note that even if you have an open identity theft case that is being worked by the IRS, you need to continue to file your tax returns during this period.

    For victims of identity theft who have previously been in contact with the IRS and have not achieved a resolution to their case, you may contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit, toll-free, at 800-908-4490. If you are unable to get your issue resolved and are experiencing financial difficulties, contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service toll-free at 877-777-4778.

    Identity theft is an issue that we, as tax professionals, take very seriously. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not think twice about calling us. We are here to help you.