Identity Theft


What is identity theft?

Identity theft is “a fraud that is committed or attempted, using a person’s identifying information without authority.” ID theft may involve stealing someone’s Social Security number (SSN), name, bank account, or credit card numbers, and using that information without permission.

Online identity theft is called phishing. A phishing scam involves fraudsters sending email messages to trick unsuspecting victims into revealing personal and financial information such as credit card numbers, account usernames and passwords, SSNs, etc.. Some identity theft starts with something as simple as someone stealing a wallet or taking or reading your regular mail.

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

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

For information about phishing scams, see What are my resources? section below.

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; 
  • 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
  • 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.

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 your Social Security number (SSN)

If you can’t file your tax return electronically because someone has already used your SSN to file a tax return, you must file a paper tax return, along with an affidavit (see below) explaining that you are a victim of identity theft. You will need to:

The IRS sent a letter saying it received a tax return with your name and SSN

If you get an IRS letter that requests you to verify your identity, it’s possible someone used your SSN to file a tax return. The IRS Taxpayer Protection Program identifies potential identity theft returns as a precautionary measure to protect you. If you receive an IRS Letter 4883C or IRS Letter 5747C, you will need to:

  • Contact the toll free Identity Verification line at 800-830-5084 immediately if you didn't file the tax return or don’t have a filing requirement. Be prepared to verify your identity. Have the following information accessible when you contact the IRS:
  • Respond to the letter as soon as possible, following the instructions in the letter.
    • The IRS letter, and
    • A copy of your current and prior year returns, including all schedules (if applicable).
  • Contact the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC) appointment line at 844-545-5640 within 30 days of the date of the letter to schedule an appointment. Bring the information and identity documents listed on your letter to your appointment. You don’t need to visit the TAC if you didn't file the tax return; however, you must contact the Identity Verification line listed above.
  • Don't complete an IRS Form 14039 unless directed to do so.

The IRS sent a 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 of 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 notice;
  • Fill out a IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit; and
  • Submit your response and documents to the address indicated on the IRS letter.

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 identity theft - you can also contact them.

Identity Protection Specialized Unit
Toll-free phone number: 1 (800) 908-4490
Hours: Monday through Friday 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. local time (Alaska and Hawaii use Pacific Time)

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

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

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

If you're facing a financial hardship such as an about to happen eviction, utility cutoff, inability to pay for medical needs, etc., you should contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service

For this tax return

If someone else filed a tax return using your SSN: 

  • You can't file electronically and will need to submit a paper return. 
  • An IRS employee will review both tax returns to determine which is from you and which is from the identity thief.
  • The IRS will then adjust your account to reflect only the correct information. 
  • The IRS review can take 180 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 and has processed your return, it may assign you an IRS Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN), a six digit number you must use on 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. 

Social Security benefits

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. 

Have a different tax issue?  Browse common issues and situations at Get Help.

Is your tax problem more complex?  If your issue is causing you financial hardship, you have tried repeatedly and are not receiving a response from the IRS, or you feel your taxpayer rights are being violated, consider contacting Taxpayer Advocate Service TAS.

Do you feel that you need help from a tax professional but can’t afford one? You may be eligible for representation from an attorney, certified public accountant (CPA), or enrolled agent associated with a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.

Last modified October 5, 2017