How tax-identity theft happens
Tax identity theft happens when someone files a phony tax return using your personal information - like your Social Security number - to get a tax refund from the IRS. It also can happen when someone uses your Social Security number to get a job or claims your child as a dependent on a tax return. Tax identity theft, also referred to as Imposter Scams, have been the most common form of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for the past seven years.
Tax identity thieves get your personal information in a number of ways. For example:
- Someone goes through your trash or steals mail from your home or car
- Imposters send phony emails that look like they're from the IRS and ask for personal information
- Employees at hospitals, nursing homes, banks, and other businesses steal your information
- Phony or dishonest tax preparers misuse their clients' information or pass it along to identity thieves
Tips for protecting yourself
To start fighting tax identity theft right away, remember:
- Safeguard your Social Security number throughout the year. Don't share it without reason or trust of who you're giving it to.
- File your tax return as early in the tax season as you can.
- Use a secure internet connection if you file electronically.
- Mail your tax return directly from the post office; do not put sensitive personal information in your home mailbox or other outgoing mailbox for pickup.
- Research a tax preparer thoroughly before you provide personal information.
- Check your credit report at least once a year, free at annualcreditreport.com. Make sure no one has opened a new account in your name.
Be aware of tax-related identity theft scams
While tax-related identity theft is very real, scammers posing as the IRS notifying you of a scam are not. It’s important to know that the IRS only notifies someone about tax-related identity theft through the mail. The IRS would never do any of the following:
- The IRS does not initiate contact with a taxpayer through email, text, or social media message asking for personal or financial information.
- The IRS does not call taxpayers with threats of lawsuits or arrests.
- The IRS will never ask you to wire money, pay with a gift card or prepaid debit card, or share your credit card information over the phone.
If you get an email, text, or other electronic message that claims to be from the IRS, do not reply or click on any links. Instead, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also report IRS imposters to the US Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at tigta.gov.
If you think someone may have used your SSN to file for a tax refund, but you have not received a letter from the IRS, report it to the IRS and FTC at IdentityTheft.gov.
For more information about tax identity theft, scams, and how to protect your information: