If you’ve ever suffered from that sinking feeling after carefully preparing to e-file your taxes (opens in new tab) only to be told by the IRS website that you have, apparently, already filed a return, then you’re not alone. Unfortunately, while the IRS continues to make significant progress in reducing tax identity theft (opens in new tab), many of us are still affected by this hugely stressful occurrence.
The reason is that criminals will often have gotten hold of your Social Security number and subsequently use it to file a fake tax return (opens in new tab) in your name. The outcome is that they may be able to claim the tax refund (opens in new tab) that should have been coming your way. While you miss out on the money, you’re also left with the resulting administrative mess to clear up.
What’s more, despite this situation, you’ll still be required to let the IRS know of the problem, although they may have contacted you already in some cases. On top of that, you’ll still need to file your genuine tax return. Finally, you’ll be back in the queue waiting for your tax refund if there’s one due to be paid. It’s a hassle, for sure.
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If you’re a victim of tax-related ID theft (opens in new tab), there’s a lot of time involved for things to be sorted out, your records to be set straight, and all of the other dust to settle in the wake of a potential crime being committed. Unfortunately, there’s no simple way of dealing with the aftermath of tax-related identity theft, and you’ll have to pick through things step-by-step.
Taking it from the top involves first looking at how best to let the IRS know of the issue. If you’ve had the dreaded message from the IRS website, or a letter in the mail from them, informing you of multiple returns being filed, then you’ll need to contact the IRS as soon as possible. Contact IRS Identity Protection at 800-908-4490, as they have advisors to explain the process and tackle any questions you’ll probably have for them.
You might find it necessary to complete the IRS Form 14039 (opens in new tab), Identity Theft Affidavit, which can also be used if you suspect identity theft that might have occurred in other areas of your personal affairs. You’ll also need to verify your identity, and for this task, the IRS has another form in the shape of the Letter 5071C or 6331C (opens in new tab).
If you’d prefer to talk to someone about it, there should be a toll-free IRS Identity Verification telephone number contained in the 5071C or 6331C letter. While you’re on the phone, it’s a good idea to make contacting one of the three major credit reporting agencies your next step. These are: Experian (opens in new tab), Equifax (opens in new tab), and TransUnion (opens in new tab), and request a fraud alert. Doing it with one will mean they have to notify the others. Finally, get the suspected fraud issue filed with the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov (opens in new tab).
Of course, there’s no escaping the fact that you’ll still be required to file your tax return (opens in new tab), so you’ll still want to ensure this is done on time. Even if the IRS is working on your case, you’ll need to submit your paperwork. If you can’t e-file due to the issue of the IRS system telling you you’ve already done that, then the conventional paper route is another angle. So print it out and send it off before the deadline.
If you’ve been prudent and sent off your tax return quite early, you’ll probably get that letter from the IRS informing you of multiple returns being filed in your name. Most likely, your Social Security number was stolen by fraudsters. You’ll need to contact the IRS via the methods outlined above to confirm your identity, following the verification process requested by the revenue service.
The final question in this turmoil is, will your tax refund be delayed due to tax-related identity theft? You’ll undoubtedly need to be patient as, unsurprisingly, the IRS has to deal with many cases. Often a resolution can take up to and sometimes over three months based on data from the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service.
Contacting them can be a good option if you’re having trouble resolving the issue of identity theft. In addition, the Taxpayer Advocate Service (opens in new tab) can often be useful for helping with ongoing identity theft issues and other tax-related problems. Even more helpful, this is a free service, which might prove handy if you’re suffering hardship as a knock-on result of any fraud that may have taken place.
While it's reasonable to expect and hope for the quick resolution of any tax-related fraud (opens in new tab) affecting you, things will take time. The IRS first has to make a lot of checks; you then have to verify your identity, either by phone or in person, by visiting an IRS office after the revenue service has sent you a letter. Remember that this will come in the mail, so any unsolicited emails or phone calls could be another knock-on effect of fraud.
You'll need to contact the IRS to ensure the wheels start turning into any inquiry. If you don't take action from your side, the case will be on hold. Acting as quickly as possible while giving the IRS everything they need to progress – through the correct channels – is the way to go. Even then, if you've had to file manually, then expect the issuing of any refund to take longer than usual.
You should get your refund, but unfortunately, another side-effect of tax-related identity theft is that more time gets added to the process overall. Sure, it's tedious, but until fraud is even harder to execute by criminals, this is one of those annoying facts of life. Taking adequate measures to reduce your exposure to potential identity theft (opens in new tab) in the first place is, therefore, a practical way forward.
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