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SCARS™ Guide: Guide to Taxpayer Identity Theft & Scams
Tax-Related Identity Theft Occurs When Someone Uses Your Stolen Personal Information, Including Your Social Security Number, To File A Tax Return Claiming A Fraudulent Refund
If you suspect you are a victim of identity theft, continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must file a paper return.
Know the Signs of Taxpayer Identity Theft (Similar For Other Countries Too)
You may not know you’re a victim of identity theft until you’re notified by the IRS of a possible issue with your return.
Be alert to possible tax-related identity theft if:
- You get a letter from the IRS inquiring about a suspicious tax return that you did not file.
- You can’t e-file your tax return because of a duplicate Social Security number.
- You get a tax transcript in the mail that you did not request.
- You get an IRS notice that an online account has been created in your name.
- You get an IRS notice that your existing online account has been accessed or disabled when you took no action.
- You get an IRS notice that you owe additional tax or refund offset, or that you have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return.
- IRS records indicate you received wages or other income from an employer you didn’t work for.
There are steps you can take if your Social Security number or other personal information is compromised.
Tax-Related Identity Theft
If your Social Security number is compromised and you know or suspect you are a victim of tax-related identity theft, the IRS recommends these actions:
- Respond immediately to any IRS notice: Call the number provided.
- If your e-filed return is rejected because of a duplicate filing under your Social Security number, or if the IRS instructs you to do so, complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit (PDF). Use a fillable form at IRS.gov, print, then attach the form to your return and mail your return according to instructions.
- Visit IdentityTheft.gov for steps you should take right away to protect yourself and your financial accounts.
See Identity Theft Victim Assistance: How It Works for more information about how the IRS can help you.
If you previously contacted the IRS and did not have a resolution, contact us for specialized assistance at 1-800-908-4490. We have teams standing by to help you.
If you believe someone has filed a fraudulent return in your name, you can get a copy of the return. See Instructions for Requesting a Copy of Fraudulent Returns.
If you e-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, or if you receive an IRS Notice CP87A, you’ll need to find out why someone else claimed your dependent. Learn more at What to Do When Someone Fraudulently Claims Your Dependent.
Not all data breaches or computer hacks result in tax-related identity theft. It’s important to know what type of personal information was stolen.
If you’ve been a victim of a data breach, keep in touch with the company to learn what it is doing to protect you and follow the “Steps for victims of identity theft.” Data breach victims should submit a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit (PDF), only if your Social Security number has been compromised and your e-filed return was rejected as a duplicate or the IRS instructs you to file the form.
Employment-Related Identity Theft
If you believe someone has been using your Social Security number for employment purposes (as opposed to filing fraudulent tax returns for refunds in your name) see our Guide to Employment-Related Identity Theft.
Protect Your Data and Identity – Your Computer and Mobile Phone
The IRS, state tax agencies and the tax industry need your help to fight back against identity thieves. See Taxes. Security. Together.
- Use security software and make sure it updates automatically; essential tools include virus/malware protection and a firewall.
- Use encryption programs to protect sensitive digital data.
- Treat your personal information like cash; don’t leave it lying around.
- Use strong, unique passwords; consider a password manager.
- Use multi-factor authentication when it’s offered.
- Give personal and financial information only over encrypted websites; look for “https” addresses.
- Back up your files.
Phishing Emails and Scams
Identity thieves use phishing emails to trick users into giving up passwords and other information. Don’t take the bait. Look for emails that:
- Pose as a trusted source such as a bank or a tax provider.
- Contain an urgent message (such as “Update your account now!”) with instructions to open a link or attachment.
And remember these good guidelines:
- Never download software or apps from pop-up advertising.
- Talk to family about online security for their computers and their mobile devices.
Report suspicious online or emailed phishing scams to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Report IRS impersonation scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s IRS Impersonation Scams Reporting.
Create strong passwords that follow these simple guidelines:
- Use long phrases that you can remember, combined with characters and numbers. Example: SomethingYouCanRemember@30.
- Use a different password for each account and use a password manager.
- When possible, don’t use your email address as your login ID.
- Use two-factor authentication whenever it’s offered. This is particularly important for protecting your email, financial and social media accounts.
IRS Identity Protection PINS
If you filed a federal tax return last year from one of 20 locations, you may be eligible to opt-in to the IP PIN program. The IP PIN is a 6-digit PIN that offers additional protection for your Social Security number on your tax return.
To obtain an IP PIN, you must be able to verify your identity through a rigorous Secure Access process. Review the Secure Access requirements before you start to learn more about the IP PIN and how to use the Get an IP PIN tool.
At the start of the 2020 filing season, taxpaying residents of these locations will be eligible for the IP PIN program: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington.
How The IRS Helps
The IRS, state tax agencies and the tax industry work in coordination as the Security Summit to protect taxpayer data. Our program includes safeguards that identify suspicious returns.
The IRS never:
- Initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text or social media to request personal or financial information
- Call taxpayers with threats of lawsuits or arrests
- Call, email or text to request taxpayers’ Identity Protection PINs
- Publication 4524, Security Awareness for Taxpayers (PDF)
- Publication 5027, Identity Theft Information for Taxpayers (PDF)
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FAQ: How Do You Properly Report Scammers?
It is essential that law enforcement knows about scams & scammers, even though there is nothing (in most cases) that they can do.
Always report scams involving money lost or where you received money to:
- Local Police – ask them to take an “informational” police report – say you need it for your insurance
- U.S. State Police (if you live in the U.S.) – they will take the matter more seriously and provide you with more help than local police
- Your National Police or FBI « www.IC3.gov »
- The SCARS|CDN™ Cybercriminal Data Network – Worldwide Reporting Network on « www.Anyscam.com »
This helps your government understand the problem, and allows law enforcement to add scammers on watch lists worldwide.
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