Identity theft: What taxpayers need to know

Be ready to act fast if you suspect your personal data has been compromised

(Image: © Mozilla)

We’ve all heard about tax-related identity theft in recent years. Unfortunately, some people get to have first-hand experience of it by losing their details to criminals. If someone manages to get their hands on your personal information, such as your name, address, date of birth, and, worse still, Social Security number, there could be problems ahead. 

You can take preventive measures, such as investing in an identity theft protection software package. These can be handy for keeping tabs on things like your credit reports and often come with other useful tools built into the software suite that allows you to manage things like internet security and your internet usage with a built-in VPN.

There are many variations on the theme, but get yourself an identity theft protection package, and you’ll have a head start on managing your personal and tax data. On top of that, you’ll want to be a little more diligent on the security front by taking another look at what you do with your information. Taking a few simple steps to lock down personal details and being more stealthy with your data could pay dividends over time.

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Tax filing

If you're one of the millions of US citizens who have to go through the process of tax filing each year, then this is a process that is gradually being made harder for fraudsters to infiltrate. However, tax-related identity theft is still an issue, which is probably why the IRS continues trying to make its systems as robust as possible. You'll need to make a bit of an effort from your end, too, though.

Thankfully the IRS has now come up with a way of allowing you to boost the safety and security of your identity and associated data. If you're using an online application to get your tax filing done, its latest option means you can log in with your username, password, and a third personal item. This is likely to be a phone number. Unsurprisingly, if you use this trio of secure options, your identity can be kept much safer.


(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Constant threat

Nevertheless, there are still plenty of threats out there. Many cases of tax-related identity theft can initially go unnoticed, and it’s often not until you try and e-file your tax return that problems are flagged. The most common issue is when an individual tries to file their tax return, and the IRS rejects it. Often this will be because a fraudster has already tried to file one on your behalf.

Even if this does happen, you still have to pay your taxes and file a tax return, which could mean that you have to go down the avenue of submitting a paper version. This might seem like an alien concept if you’ve been used to the convenience of e-filing over the last few years, but unfortunately, this is one of the hassle factors of being the victim of tax-related ID theft. Luckily, the IRS has a good range of helpful measures that can be called upon to limit the damage that’s been done.

Social Security

Your Social Security number is important for several reasons, so if you think it has been stolen or you’re suspicious that it may be being used for fraudulent reasons, you’ll want to act fast. If you get a notice from the IRS about its use, be sure to respond as soon as possible by calling the number that comes with the notification in the mail.

The same goes if you find your e-filed tax return is rejected, which will be a clear indication that someone else has tried to file using your details. If that happens, you’ll need to complete IRS Form 14039, the Identity Theft Affidavit. This is a fillable form that can be found at, which needs to be sent with a paper version of your tax return to the address the Internal Revenue Service will give you when they get in touch.


(Image credit: Pixabay)

Fraudulent returns

The IRS has copies of everything submitted to it, which means that it will also have any fraudulent tax return that has been filed in your name. You can get a copy of this document, although some parts may be concealed. The best thing about this is that it will allow you to piece together whether or not someone has been submitting a fraudulent return.

The IRS has an online page explaining how to request this information. You'll first need to complete Form 4506-F, which must also have your name and Social Security number on it. Next, you'll need to provide your mailing address and specify the tax year or years of the fraudulent returns you are applying to see. Finally, you must supply your signature.

Complex issues

Any matter that could point towards fraudulent behavior and identity theft issues is severe, and requests can take time. This is especially so if investigations are still ongoing. The IRS states that it will acknowledge your request within 30 days of receiving it. You should also receive the return or a follow-up reply within 90 days.

In the meantime, don’t forget that you still have a requirement to file your tax return and also pay any outstanding tax amounts. You’ll still need to meet the same deadlines as everyone else, which might seem like a tall order if you’re battling with the stress of the situation. 

Nevertheless, it’s crucial to try and supply all of the correct information to the IRS in a timely fashion. The IRS website has a mountain of helpful information for helping you get through identity theft, which should therefore be your first port of call if you’re looking for guidance during what can be a hugely stressful time.

Rob Clymo

Rob Clymo has been a tech journalist for more years than he can actually remember, having started out in the wacky world of print magazines before discovering the power of the internet. Since he's been all-digital he has run the Innovation channel during a few years at Microsoft as well as turning out regular news, reviews, features and other content for the likes of TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Guide, Fit&Well, Gizmodo, Shortlist, Automotive Interiors World, Automotive Testing Technology International, Future of Transportation and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. In the rare moments he's not working he's usually out and about on one of numerous e-bikes in his collection.