March 9, 2021
NTA Blog: Identity Protection PIN Can Protect You From Tax-Related Identity Theft
Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information, including your Social Security number (SSN), in order to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. In calendar year 2020, the IRS suspended 6.9 million tax returns it suspected of identity theft. If your tax return is held up due to suspected fraud, the IRS will delay issuing your refund until it confirms your identity and validates the filed return. So, what can taxpayers do to protect themselves and prevent delays with refunds?
In 2011, the IRS introduced the Identity Protection Personal Identification Number (IP PIN) as a tool to for taxpayers to protect themselves against potential tax-related identity theft. Until recently, the IP PIN was available to residents of less than half of U.S. states. Over the years, my office has recommended that the IRS expand the use of IP PINs to allow taxpayers in every state the ability to receive an IP PIN to protect their accounts. There was concern about the cost of administering the IP PIN program (unique IP PINs must be generated each year, and phone lines must be staffed to assist the percentage of taxpayers who will invariably misplace the IP PIN) and the IRS did not initially adopt our recommendation. We recognized there is a cost to providing IP PINs on a large scale, but we also knew there is a considerable cost to leaving taxpayer accounts unprotected from fraud — including the administrative cost of holding up processing while returns are validated, often leading to unreasonable delays in the payment of refunds.
I am pleased to share the news that the IRS has recently opened up enrollment in the IP PIN program nationwide to anyone who has an SSN or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). A taxpayer who is able to verify his or her identity may now voluntarily opt into the IP PIN program as a proactive way to protect against tax-related identity theft.
What is an IP PIN and why should I get one?
An IP PIN is a unique six-digit number that prevents someone else from filing a tax return using your SSN or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). The IP PIN is known only to you and the IRS and helps verify your identity when you file your electronic or paper tax return. Once the IRS assigns an IP PIN to a taxpayer, it will not accept an e-filed tax return without this IP PIN and paper return processing will be delayed by a manual review to verify the taxpayer’s identity.
The IP PIN is valid for one year. Each January, a newly generated IP PIN must be obtained.
Any primary taxpayer (listed first on the return), secondary taxpayer (listed second on the return), or dependent may obtain an IP PIN if they can pass the identity proofing requirements. The IRS issued 4.5 million IP PINs for the 2020 filing season, and IP PINs have been a highly effective safeguard that prevents fraud from recurring.
How do I get an IP PIN?
If you wish to opt in to the IP PIN program, use the online Get An IP PIN tool on the IRS.gov website. If you do not already have an account on IRS.gov, you must register to validate your identity. Before you register, read about the secure access identity authentication process.
To ensure security, the IRS utilizes a two-factor authentication process, where it sends a temporary code to the taxpayer’s mobile phone or email account. The IRS will also ask the applicant to provide personal information such as a credit card number or loan number, to validate the taxpayer’s identity.
If you cannot validate your identity through the Get An IP PIN tool, there are alternatives. One alternative to using the online tool is filing Form 15227, Application for an Identity Protection Personal Identification Number. To apply this way, you must have:
The IRS will use the telephone number provided on the Form 15227 to call you, validate your identity, and assign you an IP PIN for the next filing season. (For security reasons, the IP PIN cannot be used for the current filing season. You will receive your IP PIN via the U.S. Postal Service for the following year and a unique IP PIN for future years.)
If you are 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 Taxpayer Assistance Center. For other application options, see IRS.gov’s Get An IP PIN tool page.
How does the IP PIN process work?
Enter the six-digit IP PIN when prompted by your tax software product, provide it to your trusted tax professional preparing your tax return, or enter it on your paper tax return.
Be aware, correct IP PINs must be entered on electronic and paper tax returns to avoid additional rejections and delays. An incorrect or missing IP PIN will cause the rejection of your e-filed return or a delay of your paper return until it can be verified.
Don’t reveal your IP PIN
Your IP PIN should be known only to you and your tax professional, and should be used only when you are ready to sign and submit your return. Be aware that the IRS will never contact you to ask for your IP PIN. Phone calls, emails, or texts asking for your IP PIN are scams.
Want to opt out of the program later?
The IRS plans to offer an opt-out feature to the IP PIN program in 2022 if taxpayers find it is not right for them. For more information about the program and other alternative application options, see the FAQs about the Identity Protection Personal Identification Number (IP PIN).
More resources are available for additional information:
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the National Taxpayer Advocate. The National Taxpayer Advocate presents an independent taxpayer perspective that does not necessarily reflect the position of the IRS, the Treasury Department, or the Office of Management and Budget.