Tax Identity Theft: What It Is And How It Can Occur

Tax Identity Theft Imposter Scams
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Have you ever stopped to ponder, ‘What is tax identity theft and how can it occur‘? You are not alone. As per the statistics by the Federal Trade Commission, tax identity theft complaints surged by 2,920% from 2019 to 2020. This alarming rise underscores the urgency of awareness and preventive measures. Unfortunately, confusion and fear often reign supreme.

Understanding Tax Identity Theft

In the realm of cyber threats, tax identity theft is a particularly insidious one. It occurs when a malicious actor uses your Social Security number to steal your tax refund or for work. The first sign of tax identity theft usually comes when you file your tax returns and find out that a return has already been filed using your Social Security number.

Tax identity theft is not just a minor inconvenience. It can have far-reaching impacts, including incorrect tax records, unexpected tax bills, and even issues with your Social Security benefits.

To learn more about the broader context of cyber threats, check out our article on What Is Cyber Security. For a more in-depth look at tax identity theft, the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft by the IRS is a valuable resource.

The Process of Tax Identity Theft

Tax identity theft is a process that starts with the theft of your personal information. This can happen in a variety of ways, such as through a data breach, phishing scam, or even old-fashioned mail theft. Once the thieves have your Social Security number, they can use it to file a fraudulent tax return in your name, claiming a refund that rightfully belongs to you.

But it’s not just about stealing your refund. In some cases, thieves might use your Social Security number to get a job. The income they earn is reported to the IRS under your name, leading to a situation where the IRS thinks you’ve underreported your income.

The What to Know About Tax Identity Theft article from the Federal Trade Commission provides a comprehensive overview of how tax identity theft can occur and what you can do to protect yourself.

Signs of Tax Identity Theft

Sign of Tax Identity Theft Description
Rejected Tax Return Your tax return is rejected because one has already been filed using your Social Security number.
IRS Notice of Balance Due You receive a notice stating you have a balance due or collection actions taken against you when you haven’t filed your taxes.
Inaccurate Reported Income IRS records show you received more wages than you actually earned.
Unexpected IRS/Missouri Letter You receive a letter from the IRS or Missouri Department of Revenue that doesn’t seem to apply to you.

Tax identity theft is a growing concern, and it’s crucial to be aware of the signs that you may have fallen victim to this type of fraud.

One of the most common signs of tax identity theft is when your tax return is rejected because another one has already been filed using your Social Security number. This is often the first indication that something is amiss, and it’s a clear sign that someone else may be using your personal information.

Another sign is if you receive a notice from the IRS stating that you have a balance due, refund offset, or have had collection actions taken against you when you haven’t filed your taxes yet. This could mean that someone else has filed a fraudulent tax return in your name.

For more information on how to protect your privacy when buying a house, which can also be a time when you’re at risk for identity theft, check out this article on How to Protect Your Privacy When Buying a House: 5 Best Strategies.

‘What Is Tax Identity Theft And How Can It Occur’: Real-life


Tax Identity Theft The Dark Web

Tax identity theft is not just a theoretical threat – it happens to real people every day.

One way that tax identity theft occurs is through imposter scams, where thieves pose as legitimate entities to trick you into giving them your personal information. They can also get your information through data breaches, stolen mail or W-2s, CEO/HR phishing scams, and corrupt insiders at tax preparation services.

Once they have your information, thieves can use it to file a fraudulent tax return in your name. They manipulate the numbers, enter an unrelated refund dispersal option like a prepaid debit card, and make off with your refund before you even realize anything is wrong.

For more real-life examples of tax identity theft and how it can occur, visit The How and Why of Tax Identity Theft. This article provides a detailed look at how tax identity theft happens and the impact it can have on victims.

Protecting Yourself from Tax Identity Theft

Tax Identity Theft Recovering And Rebuilding

In the digital age, tax identity theft is a real and growing concern. But fear not, dear reader, for there are steps you can take to shield yourself from these nefarious digital pickpockets.

First and foremost, guard your Social Security number like it’s the secret recipe to your grandma’s world-famous apple pie. Don’t give it out unless absolutely necessary, and always question why it’s being requested.

Use strong, unique passwords for your online accounts, especially those related to financial or tax information. Think of your password as the moat around your digital castle – the more complex, the better.

Be wary of phishing emails. If an email looks suspicious or asks for personal information, don’t click on any links. Remember, the IRS will never initiate contact with you via email to request personal or financial information.

Shred documents containing personal information before tossing them in the trash. Your garbage can is like a treasure chest for identity thieves.

Consider using a secure internet connection and avoid public Wi-Fi when accessing financial or tax-related information. Public Wi-Fi is like a digital coffee shop where everyone can overhear your conversations.

Stay informed about the latest scams and warning signs. Knowledge is power, and staying up-to-date can help you spot potential threats.

The importance of these proactive measures cannot be overstated. It’s like putting on sunscreen before a day at the beach – it might seem like a hassle, but it’s essential for protection.

For more insights on protecting your digital realm, check out these Cybersecurity Tips for Small Businesses, applicable to individuals as well.

Learn more about tax identity theft and how to protect yourself at What is Tax Identity Theft.

Recovering from Tax Identity Theft

Tax Identity Theft Digital Fortress

Now, let’s talk about the “Oh no, it happened!” scenario. If you find yourself a victim of tax identity theft, don’t panic. Here’s your step-by-step guide to recovery:

  1. Contact the IRS: Report the fraud to the IRS and fill out the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039). They have a team of superheroes (well, special agents) ready to help.
  2. Place a Fraud Alert: Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit reports. This is like putting a digital “Beware of Dog” sign on your financial lawn.
  3. Close or Freeze Fraudulent Accounts: If thieves have opened new accounts in your name, close them immediately. If they’ve tampered with existing accounts, consider freezing them.
  4. File a Report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC): The FTC is like the digital police, and they want to know about your case.
  5. Consider Professional Help: Sometimes, it’s wise to call in the cavalry. Consider hiring a professional to help you navigate the recovery process.
  6. Stay Vigilant: Keep an eye on your credit reports and financial statements for any unusual activity. It’s like keeping a weather eye on the horizon for storms.

Recovering from tax identity theft may feel like climbing a mountain, but with the right steps, you can reach the summit. For more resources and assistance, visit Identity Theft Central, your base camp for recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is tax identity theft?

Tax identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund.

How can tax identity theft occur?

Tax identity theft can occur when your sensitive personal information like your social security number or ITIN falls into the wrong hands. This can happen through phishing schemes, unsecured online transactions, or data breaches.

What are the signs of tax identity theft?

When you receive a notice from IRS about a duplicate tax return, unexplained changes in your IRS account, or if you owe additional tax, refund offset, or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return, you might be a victim of tax identity theft.

How can I protect my identity and prevent tax identity theft?

Protecting your identity starts with

  • Maintaining the privacy of tax-related and other personal information.
  • Regularly reviewing your account statements and credit reports.
  • Filing your tax return early to get ahead of potentially fraught filers.
  • Using electronic tax payments to significantly reduce the risks.

What do I do if I am a victim of tax identity theft?

  • Report the identity theft to the FTC.
  • Contact one of the three major credit bureaus.
  • Respond immediately to any IRS notice.
  • Complete the IRS Form ID Theft Affidavit.


To sum up, understanding ‘what is tax identity theft and how can it occur‘ is vital in navigating today’s intricate digital landscape. The key lies in safeguarding personal data, staying vigilant about potential signs of tax identity theft, and knowing how to respond if you fall victim. Equipped with this knowledge, we can together combat tax identity theft.

Thank you for reading!