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Published: April 26, 2022   |   Last Updated: April 26, 2022

Identity Theft

What is identity theft?

Individual identity (ID) theft is “a fraud that is committed or attempted, using a person’s identifying information without authority.” Individual ID theft may involve stealing someone’s Social Security number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), name, bank account, or credit card numbers, and using that information without permission. Some ID theft starts with something as simple as someone stealing a wallet or accessing your mail.

Business ID theft is defined as creating, using, or attempting to use a business’s identifying information to obtain a tax benefit without authority.

For information on business ID theft, see Identity Theft Information for Businesses.

Phishing is a scam typically carried out through unsolicited email and/or websites that pose as legitimate sites intended to lure unsuspecting victims to provide personal and financial information.

For information about phishing scams, see Report Phishing and Online Scams.

What do I need to know?

Tax-related ID theft can affect you in two main ways

  1. Someone uses your (stolen) identification information to file a fraudulent tax return to obtain a refund.
  2. Someone uses your (stolen) information to obtain employment, which can make it seem like you had more income than you earned.

How will you know if you are a victim of tax-related ID theft?

You may find out you’re a victim of tax-related ID theft when you try to file your tax return or start getting IRS notices about your tax account.

The most common indicators are:

  • You try to file your tax return electronically, but the IRS rejects your return because it has already received another return using your SSN or ITIN;
  • You receive an IRS notice showing you received wages from somewhere you never worked;
  • You receive an IRS letter indicating one or more tax returns have been filed using your SSN or ITIN that you did not file;
  • You receive an IRS notice saying an online account has been created in your name or that your existing online account has been accessed or disabled when you took no action;
  • You receive a balance due notice, refund offset notice, or have collection actions taken against you for a tax year when you didn’t file a return or receive a refund; or
  • You receive a notice from the Social Security Administration (SSA) stating benefits will be reduced or stopped based on IRS records indicating you received wages or other income from an employer for whom you did not work.

Actions

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What should I do?

There are several steps you may need to take. The right ones for you are based on what’s happening with your tax account.

You tried to file electronically, but the IRS said someone already filed using the SSN or ITIN of you or your dependent(s).

If you can’t file your tax return electronically because someone has already used the SSN or ITIN of you or your dependent(s) to file a tax return, you must file a paper tax return, within 10 calendar days (not 10 business days) from the date it was rejected along with an affidavit or police report (see below) explaining that you are a victim of ID theft. You will need to:

  • Print and sign a paper copy of your tax return. The paper tax return should include the following:
    • An explanation of why the paper return is being filed after the due date, if applicable;
    • A copy of the e-file reject notification; and
    • Write “REJECTED ELECTRONIC RETURN – (MM-DD-YYYY)” in red at the top of the first page.
  • Fill out a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit; and

Note: If you’ve filed a police report, you can submit that to the IRS instead of Form 14039.

If you electronically file your tax return and get a message telling you that a dependent on your return has been claimed on another tax return or their own, you’ll need to find out why someone else claimed your dependent. You can learn more on this topic by visiting IRS.gov and searching: What to Do When Someone Fraudulently Claims Your Dependent.

You received an IRS letter saying you didn’t report all your income on your tax return

If you get a letter that says you didn’t report all your income and you don’t recognize the names of the companies where the income was earned, it’s possible someone used your SSN for employment purposes. You should:

  • Respond to the letter as soon as possible, following the instructions in the letter;
  • Fill out a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit; and
  • Submit your response and documents to the address indicated on the IRS letter.

Note: If you’ve filed a police report, you can submit that to the IRS instead of IRS Form 14039.

You received an IRS letter saying they received a tax return with your name and SSN or ITIN 

If you get an IRS letter that requests you to verify your ID, it’s possible someone used your SSN or ITIN to file a tax return. The IRS Taxpayer Protection Program identifies potential ID theft returns as a precautionary measure to protect you. If you receive a  Letter 4883C, 5071C,  5747C, 6330C or 6331C respond  as soon as possible, following the instructions in the letter.  Not all letters have the same options for verifying your identity.

If you didn’t file the tax return or don’t have a filing requirement:

Someone may have attempted to use your personal information to obtain a tax refund. Call the IRS immediately. If you are inside the U.S., contact the toll-free Identity Verification line at 800-830-5084. If you are outside the U.S., call the phone number listed in the letter for international callers, which is not toll-free.

You don’t need to visit an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC) if you didn’t file the tax return but you must contact the IRS to confirm that you may be a victim of tax-related ID theft. Please review “Other actions you can take to protect yourself if your identity may have been stolen” below.

If you filed a tax return:

Be prepared to verify your ID. Contact the IRS immediately following the instructions in your letter.

  • If your letter includes an option to verify online using the IRS’ online Identity Verification Service website, this is the fastest option. The website is in the letter.
  • If your letter includes an option to verify your ID by phone, contact the toll-free Identity Verification line at 800-830-5084, if you are inside the U.S. If you are outside the U.S., call the phone number for international callers listed in the Letter 5447C, which is not toll-free.

If you can use either the online or phone option, have the following information accessible:

    • The IRS letter, and
    • A copy of your current and prior year returns, including all schedules (if applicable).

NOTE: If the IRS can’t verify your ID using either of these options, they may ask you to schedule an appointment at an IRS TAC to verify in person. See option 3 below for how to schedule an appointment.

  • If your letter requires you to go into an IRS TAC, you will need an appointment. Call the appointment line at 844-545-5640 within 30 days of the date of the letter to schedule an appointment for in-person authentication. Bring the information and identity documents listed on your letter to your appointment.
  • If you received a Letter 5447C, you have the option of mailing in the documentation to the address in the letter.

Once the IRS verifies your identity and confirms you submitted the tax return, they’ll continue processing your return. It may take up to three weeks to receive your refund.

You received a tax transcript in the mail that you did not request

Determine if your spouse or someone who is authorized (tax professional, power of attorney, or financial institution, etc.) could have requested the transcript. Someone may have had enough of your tax information to request a transcript through the IRS system, but did not receive the transcript, instead it was mailed to you. To protect your accounts if you have no tax-related ID theft, you can file Form 14039 and check box 2 in Section B. Please review “For Future Returns” below for information about opting in for an Identity Protection Personal Identification Number (IP PIN).

You received a balance due notice, refund offset notice, or have collection actions taken against you for a tax year when you didn’t file a return

You should submit either a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, or a police report alleging the identity theft, and include a copy of the IRS letter or notice if the IRS sends you a balance due notice, a refund offset notice, or a notice advising you of collection actions they have taken against you for a tax year that you didn’t file a return. Include any additional supporting documentation that the notice/letter may request.

You receive a notice from the SSA stating benefits will be reduced or stopped based on IRS records indicating you received wages or other income from an employer for whom you did not work

If someone is using your SSN to work or file a fraudulent tax return in your name, it can affect any Social Security benefits you receive now or in the future. You may get a notice from the SSA that your benefits have been reduced or stopped because a federal tax return was filed showing you earned wages or self-employment income.

If this happens to you, contact the SSA to find out how to correct your Social Security account. You should also file IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, with the IRS. If you’re not required to file a federal tax return, and someone has filed using your identifying information, the IRS will need to correct your account. Filing the affidavit will also notify the IRS to add additional security measures to your account.

Your information has been stolen, and you want to protect your tax account 

If you know your information has been compromised due to a lost or stolen wallet or for some other reason, you should alert the IRS. This allows the IRS to take steps to secure your account.

The IRS has a specialized unit dealing with ID theft – you can also contact them.

Identity Protection Specialized Unit
Toll-free phone number: 800 908-4490
Hours: Monday through Friday 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. local time (Alaska and Hawaii use Pacific Time)

Other actions you can take to protect yourself if your identity may have been stolen

Please review “For Future Returns” below for information about opting in for an IP PIN.

Your refund is delayed due to ID theft and it’s causing a financial hardship

If you’re facing a financial hardship, you should contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service. Examples of financial hardship are an upcoming eviction, your utilities are about to be shut off, or you’re unable to pay for medical care.

Note: If you’ve filed a police report, you can submit that to the IRS instead of Form 14039.

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How will this affect me?

For this tax return

If someone else filed a tax return using the SSN or ITIN of you or your dependent(s):

  • You can’t file electronically and will need to submit a paper return. See “You tried to file electronically, but the IRS said someone already filed using your SSN or ITIN” above.
  • An IRS employee will review both tax returns to determine which is from you and which is from the ID thief.
  • The IRS will then adjust your account to reflect only the correct information.
  • The IRS review can take 120 days or more, so if you’re expecting a refund, it will be delayed.

For future tax returns

When the IRS determines you’re the rightful owner of the SSN or ITIN and has processed your return, it may assign you an IP PIN, a six-digit number you must use on all your future federal tax returns. This is an extra layer of security; without a valid IP PIN, no tax return will be processed to your account. A new IP PIN will be generated each year.

Opt-in IP PIN

In 2014, the IRS began offering taxpayers who were not ID theft victims the ability to opt into the IP PIN program. At the start of the 2021 filing season, the IRS expanded the IP PIN Opt-In program to taxpayers nationwide as a proactive step to protect themselves from tax-related identity theft. Spouses and dependents are eligible for an IP PIN if they can pass the identity verification process.

How to get an IP PIN 

The fastest way to receive an IP PIN is by using the online ‘Get an IP PIN’ tool. If you wish to get an IP PIN and you don’t already have an account on IRS.gov, you must register to validate your identity. The IP PIN tool is generally available starting in mid-January through mid-November.

Alternatives to the online tool 

If you want an IP PIN but can’t successfully validate your identity through the ‘Get an IP PIN’ tool, there are alternatives.

  1. You may submit Form 15227, Application for an Identity Protection Personal Identification Number (IP PIN) (English-Spanish Version), to apply for an IP PIN, if you (1) have a Social Security number (SSN) or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), (2) have an annual adjusted gross income of equal to or less than $73,000 ($146,000 if filing status is Married Filing Joint) and (3) have access to a telephone.
  2. If you’re unable to verify your identity online or with the Form 15227 process or you are ineligible to file Form 15227, you may make an appointment for an in-person meeting at a local Taxpayer Assistance Center. Please bring one current government-issued picture identification document and another identification document to prove your identity. Once the IRS verifies your identity, you will receive your IP PIN via the U.S. Postal Service usually within three weeks. You will then receive your IP PIN annually through the mail.

If you are interested in requesting an IP PIN, please read Publication 5367, Identity Protection PIN Opt-In Program for Taxpayers, to understand the required steps. Go to www.irs.gov/ippin to access the Get an IP PIN tool.

 

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Wait, I still need help.

The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within the IRS that helps taxpayers and protects taxpayers’ rights. We can offer you help if your tax problem is causing a financial difficulty, you’ve tried and been unable to resolve your issue with the IRS, or you believe an IRS system, process, or procedure just isn’t working as it should. If you qualify for our assistance, which is always free, we will do everything possible to help you.

Visit www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov or call 1-877-777-4778.

Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs) are independent from the IRS and TAS. LITCs represent individuals whose income is below a certain level and who need to resolve tax problems with the IRS. LITCs can represent taxpayers in audits, appeals, and tax collection disputes before the IRS and in court. In addition, LITCs can provide information about taxpayer rights and responsibilities in different languages for individuals who speak English as a second language. Services are offered for free or a small fee. For more information or to find an LITC near you, see the LITC page on the TAS website or Publication 4134, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic List.

Resources

Tips

Copy of Fraudulent Return

Get the Instructions for Requesting a copy of the Fraudulent Return.

Learn more

ID Theft Assistance

Identity Theft Victim Assistance: How it works.

Learn more

Data Breach?

Data Breach tax related information for taxpayers.

Learn More

Social Security:

Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number

Learn More

Federal Trade Commission

Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Information – Identity Theft

Learn more

Identity Protection

Learn more on Scams involving Identity Theft.

Learn more

Phishing and Online

ID Theft Central

Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) 25.23.2.2.3,

Downloads

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Form 15227

Application for an Identity Protection Personal Identification Number (IP PIN)

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Publication 5367,

Identity Protection Opt-In Program for Taxpayers (English-Spanish)

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Publication 4524,

Security Awareness For Taxpayers

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