More than 641,000 taxpayers had their identities stolen in 2011, according to the Internal Revenue Service. The problem goes deeper than individual inconvenience: The IRS barred refunds for tax returns created with stolen Social Security numbers (SSNs) and other personal information that would have cost the U.S. Treasury $6.5 billion in 2011. If you find yourself a victim of identity theft or find yourself at risk of having your identity stolen, you can alert the IRS about your situation with Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit.
A written notice from the IRS may be your first indication of a problem. Identity thieves file fraudulent returns early; when you file after the IRS gets a return that carries your SSN, the IRS alerts you in writing. The agency also contacts suspected identity theft victims when their SSN matches that of a "taxpayer" who owes money or gets a refund that covers taxes due when it has no return on file.
Other red flags that result in a notice include questionable income from an unreported employer or a collection notice related to a return you never filed.
When the IRS notice arrives, you must do two things:
- Call the IRS phone number provided on the notice.
- Complete Form 14039 Affidavit of Identity Theft. The form is downloadable from the IRS website (irs.gov), and you can type directly onto it.
Check the first box to indicate identity theft as the reason behind the notice you received. Submit your completed form with a photocopy of official identification such as your driver's license, passport, Social Security card or government-issued ID card. Follow the mailing or fax instructions on your notice or on Form 14039. You might want to make several copies; you might need them for things such as student financial- aid audits.
The IRS wants you to submit Form 14039 when you believe someone has unauthorized access to your personal information. Use the "potential victim" box when unfamiliar entries on a credit report, unusual credit card charges, a lost purse or a stolen wallet suggest identity theft.
If you know that your or your child's identity was stolen, check the second box to report that future returns may be "at risk." Include a copy of a government-issued ID and police report if available. Mail your affidavit to the address for suspicions or fax it to the number found on page two. Then call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit's toll-free number: (800) 908-4490.
Identity theft prevention
Identity thieves work year-round, but tax time provides especially lucrative opportunities for them. Never click on links in emails offering free tax preparation or asking for information to resolve a question about your return or refund. You could end up with a virus on your hard drive that gives ID thieves access to sensitive information they can use to steal from you and the government. Forward these email scams to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember: Correspondence from the IRS never comes electronically. The agency always communicates via letters sent through the U.S. Postal Service.