Tax-related identity theft crimes

Criminals are stealing taxpayers’ identities and committing tax-related crimes. There are steps you can take to keep your personal information protected.

Identity theft is a growing concern. In 2021, identity fraud impacted 15 million U.S. consumers with $24 billion in losses.1 With your Social Security number, a criminal can commit tax fraud and other financial-related crimes in your name.

There are a number of common ways that identity thieves can obtain your Social Security number:

  • Stealing your mail, purse, or wallet.
  • Stealing data from an unsecured website that you visit.
  • Stealing personal information from your home or from records left at work.
  • Going through your trash and finding personal data about you.
  • Executing a phishing scam via emails or texts, soliciting your personal information.

Tax-related identity theft is when a criminal uses your stolen personal information—including your Social Security number—to file a fraudulent tax return in your name, claiming a tax refund. In fiscal year 2022, the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) team initiated more than 2,550 criminal investigations and identified more than $31 billion stolen through tax fraud and other financial crimes.2

The IRS vigilantly guards against this practice, flagging 5.2 million tax refunds for fraud in 2020—a 50 percent increase over 2019. Its efforts include an aggressive education program to keep the public informed about the need to protect personal data. Their efforts involve emphasizing a number of important steps people can take to safeguard their information.

Be vigilant. Always.

  • Always be on the lookout for would-be identity thieves, whether you’re at work or home.
  • Protect your Social Security card and other personal documents by keeping them in a safe place.
  • Do not carry your Social Security card unless absolutely necessary.
  • Don’t fall for phishing. Email scams are proliferating, with cyber criminals posing as financial institutions and even the IRS to solicit your personal information. These emails typically direct you to a fraudulent website that asks you to input your private information, such as bank account numbers, passwords and your Social Security number.
  • Protect your computer with malware protection and firewalls. Make sure the software is always active and updates automatically. Encrypt your sensitive documents — tax records, for instance — with a strong password.
  • Change your passwords regularly and choose unique ones for individual accounts.
  • Be alert for phone calls where the caller poses as the IRS. The IRS will never call you and demand your personal details.
  • When shopping online, visit reputable merchants and those with whom you’ve established an account history. If it’s the first time working with a particular merchant — especially one that is not especially well known — be sure to verify that their website address begins with “https:.” This provides additional security between your web browser and the merchant.
  • Google, Bing, and Yahoo search your name to discover what is available about you online. This could help you identity potential thefts of your identity.

What to do if your identity has been stolen

If your identity has been stolen and you’ve fallen victim to a tax-related crime (i.e., you cannot file a tax return because someone has already filed it using your Social Security number), there are important steps that you should take:

  • Complete IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit and submit it with your tax return, which you should send via regular mail.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  • Contact at least one of the major credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, or Transunion — directing them to place a fraud alert on your account.

If the IRS confirms that you have been victim to a tax-related identity theft, it may issue you a unique PIN each year for you to use when filing your taxes electronically.

For more information on tax-related identity theft, visit the IRS website.

1Javelin Strategy & Research:

This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that the views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors or will yield positive outcomes. Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. This material was prepared by LPL Financial, LLC.