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What to Do If You’re a Victim of Identity Theft

Tax Filing Taxes
Stressed man in front of a laptop because of an IRS identity theft

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The thought of experiencing tax return identity theft can be quite terrifying. But it’s a reality millions of Americans face each year.

A 2017 study conducted by the Insurance Information Institute found that $16 billion was stolen from 15.4 million U.S. citizens through tax return identity theft in 2016.

Here are several steps you can take to lessen your risk.

Prevention of Identity Theft

One of the easiest – and most obvious – ways you can decrease your chances of experiencing tax return identity theft is to keep your personal information as private as possible.

  • Use your Social Security Number (SSN) selectively.
  • Keep your social security card in a safe, private place.
  • Make sure to use secure websites, and never reveal your full SSN over the phone.

Another way to keep your information secure is to use unique passwords on all of your accounts or to access your devices. For instance, your password should be around 12 characters and not include names or dictionary words.

  • Make your passwords and password reset questions as personal as possible for different services and websites.
  • Consider resetting your passwords periodically throughout the year to mitigate any risk of tax return identity theft. The simple act of changing a few characters in your passwords throughout the year can keep your risk levels low.

Along with putting proper security measures in place, continuously manage any documentation that contains your personal information.

  • If you have the ability to lock your mailbox, make sure to do so. That can prevent the theft of mail items that contain personal information, such as your SSN.
  • Shred all documents containing personal identification information after they are no longer needed.

One final way to prevent tax return identity theft is to file your taxes early.

  • Be the first one to file your tax return so that you immediately deter any fraudulent activity from occurring.
  • Once you receive all of your tax documentation, like Form W-2<file your tax return, Forms 1099 and charitable contribution receipts, set aside time to file your taxes as soon as possible.

Course of Action to Remedy a Problem

If you happen to fall victim to tax return identity theft, there are several steps the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) suggests you take to remedy the situation.

First, if you suspect someone has fraudulently used your SSN to file your tax return, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) through their identity theft website. That government-run organization will start an investigation on your behalf.

Second, check your credit card activity for any concerning charges or new account openings. If the concerns seem legitimate, put a credit freeze on all your credit cards and call one of the three major credit bureaus to have new “fraud alert” issued for your accounts. For example, Experian or TransUnion can help monitor your credit activity.

Third, call the IRS fraud hotline. When you directly call the agency, a claim is logged in its records documenting your concerns. Calling also gives you the ability to speak to a representative who can assist in getting your identity restored. The representative will walk you through any required paperwork as well.

Fourth, file a Form 14039, commonly referred to as an Identity Theft Affidavit. That form is processed by the IRS to review any concerns about your identity during the tax return process. If your e-filed tax return is rejected due to a duplicate filing under your SSN, find Form 14039 on IRS.gov, fill it out and mail it along with a printed copy of your tax return to the IRS for review.


Tax refund identity theft impacts millions of Americans each year. If you happen to find yourself in a similar situation, there are several steps you can take with the IRS and credit protection bureaus to remedy the cause and restore your identity.

However, if you take the right precautions, like shredding personal documents and concealing your SSN as much as possible, you can decrease the odds of experiencing tax return identity theft.

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