Tax identity theft happens when someone files a phony tax return using your personal information — like your Social Security number — to get a tax refund from the IRS. It also can happen when someone uses your Social Security number to get a job or claims your child as a dependent on a tax return. Tax identity theft has been the most common form of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for the past five years.
How do identity thieves get your personal information?
Tax identity thieves acquire your personal information in several ways. For example, they can get your information by:
- Stealing your trash
- Stealing mail from your home or car
- Sending phony emails that look like they’re from the IRS and ask for personal information
- Stealing it from hospitals, nursing homes, banks, and other businesses
- Misusing your tax information
- Passing it along to identity thieves
What can you do to prevent identity theft?
To lessen the chances of being a victim:
- File your tax return early in the tax season, if you can, before identity thieves do
- Use a secure internet connection if you file electronically. Don’t use insecure, publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots at places like coffee shops or a hotel lobby
- Shred copies of your tax return, drafts, or calculation sheets you don’t need
- Respond to all mail from the IRS as soon as possible
- Know the IRS won’t contact you by email, text, or social media. If the IRS needs information, it will first contact you by mail.
- Don’t give out your Social Security number (SSN) or Medicare number unless necessary. Ask why it’s needed, how it’s going to be used, and how it will be stored.
- If your SSN has been compromised, contact the IRS ID Theft Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490
What if you are a victim of identity theft?
Tax identity theft victims typically find out about the crime when they get a letter from the IRS saying that more than one tax return was filed in their name, or IRS records show they received wages from an employer they don’t know. If you get a letter like this, don’t panic. Contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. Visit IdentityTheft.gov, the federal government’s one-stop resource to help you report and recover from identity theft. You can report identity theft, get step-by-step advice, sample letters, and your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit. These resources will help you fix problems caused by the theft.
If you owe — or think you owe — federal taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or go to irs.gov. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions. The IRS doesn’t ask people to pay with prepaid debit cards or wire transfers and doesn’t ask for credit card numbers over the phone. When the IRS contacts people about unpaid taxes, they usually do it by postal mail, not by phone. Report IRS impostor scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) online or at 800-366-4484, and to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
Federal Trade Commission
This article is up to date for tax year 2019 (tax returns filed in 2020).