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What Every Taxpayer Needs to Know About Identity Theft

Learn how to avoid becoming a victim

Having your identity stolen is bad enough. What’s worse is when thieves use your Social Security number to file a tax return and claim a refund. You may not even know this happened until Uncle Sam informs you that two returns have been under your identity.

Here are the top 13 things the IRS wants you to know about identity theft so you can avoid becoming a victim: 

Editor’s note: The following content is provided by the Internal Revenue Service. Consult your financial or tax adviser regarding your individual situation.

1. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by e-mail.

2. If you receive a scam e-mail claiming to be from the IRS, forward it to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.

3. Identity thieves get your personal information by many different means, including:

  • Stealing your wallet or purse.
  • Posing as someone who needs information about you through a phone call or e-mail.
  • Looking through your trash for personal information.
  • Accessing information you provide to an unsecured Internet site.

4. If you discover a website that claims to be the IRS but does not begin with www.irs.gov, forward that link to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.

5. To learn how to identify a secure website, visit the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.onguardonline.gov/topics/secure-your-computer.

6. If your Social Security number is stolen, another individual may use it to get a job. That person's employer may report income earned by the person to the IRS using your Social Security number, thus making it appear that you did not report all of your income on your tax return. When this occurs, you should contact the IRS to show that the income is not yours. Your record will be updated to reflect only your information. You will also be asked to submit substantiating documentation to authenticate yourself. That information will be used to minimize this occurrence in future years.

7. Your identity may have been stolen if a letter from the IRS indicates more than one tax return was filed for you or the letter states you received wages from an employer you don’t know. If you receive such a letter from the IRS, leading you to believe your identity has been stolen, respond immediately to the name, address or phone number on the IRS notice.

8. If your tax records are not currently affected by identity theft, but you believe you may be at risk due to a lost wallet, questionable credit card activity, or credit report, you need to provide the IRS with proof of your identity. You should submit a copy of your valid government-issued identification — such as a Social Security card, driver's license, or passport — along with a copy of a police report and/or a completed Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, which should be faxed to the IRS at 978-684-4542. As an option, you can also contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit toll-free at 1-800-908-4490. You should also follow FTC guidance for reporting identity theft at www.ftc.gov/idtheft.

9. Show your Social Security card to your employer when you start a job or to your financial institution for tax reporting purposes. Do not routinely carry your card or other documents that display your Social Security number.

10. For more information about identity theft — including information about how to report identity theft, phishing and related fraudulent activity — visit the IRS Identity Theft and Your Tax Records page, which you can find by searching "Identity Theft" on the IRS.gov home page.

11. IRS impersonation schemes flourish during tax season and can take the form of e-mail, phone websites, even tweets. Scammers may also use a phone or fax to reach their victims. If you receive a paper letter or notice via mail claiming to be the IRS but you suspect it is a scam, contact the IRS at www.irs.gov/contact/index.html to determine if it is a legitimate IRS notice or letter. If it is a legitimate IRS notice or letter, reply if needed. If the caller or party that sent the paper letter is not legitimate, contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484. You may also fax the notice/letter you received, plus any related or supporting information, to TIGTA. Note that this is not a toll-free FAX number 1-202-927-7018.

12. While preparing your tax return for electronic filing, make sure to use a strong password to protect the data file. Once your return has been e-filed, burn the file to a CD or flash drive and remove the personal information from your hard drive. Store the CD or flash drive in a safe place, such as a lock box or safe. If working with an accountant, you should ask them what measures they take to protect your information.

13. If you have information about the identity thief that impacted your personal information negatively, file an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov. The IC3 gives victims of cyber crime a convenient and easy-to-use reporting mechanism that alerts authorities of suspected criminal or civil violations. IC3 sends every complaint to one or more law enforcement or regulatory agencies that have jurisdiction over the matter.

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