Were You Hit by Income Tax-Related ID Theft?

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This tax season, the post-filing waiting game has changed. Unlike a decade ago, filers are not just anticipating refund checks. They’re waiting to learn if their e-filed returns have been accepted or rejected. If yours bounces back, it could mean you’re a victim of tax identity fraud, and someone else has filed a tax return using your Social Security number (SSN).

Rejection dread is understandable because the recovery process from tax identity fraud can be daunting. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have joined forces to streamline the process.

First Steps Begin With 14039 

14039 is the number for the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit you’ll need to complete if someone used elements of your identity to claim your tax refund. Until this new government collaboration launched in early April, victims had to print out the form and fax or mail it to the IRS. Now the form can be accessed at IdentityTheft.gov, the FTC’s dedicated website for all types of identity crimes. The site also includes guidance on completing the document correctly.

Online completion is faster than dropping an envelope containing your SSN and personal data into the mail. Expect an acknowledgment within 30 days, but resolution times can often be much longer.

The good news is that progress is being made there too. A 2017 report from the federal Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) noted that the average time to resolve tax-identity-theft refund cases had dropped to 166 days compared to the previous audit, which documented an average 278 day wait for resolution.

Note: If the e-file system rejects your return, you still need to mail in a paper copy and the estimated amount you owe. 

Curious About Your Thief? 

Tax-related ID theft victims are likely to be very frustrated, and many are eager to learn who committed the fraud in their name. However, unmasking the thief can trigger unexpected challenges.

Since this sort of theft demands access to private data, consider the possibility that you could already know the thief. A friend, sibling, parent, or caregiver could be the face of the crime. Anyone with access to your home could gain access to your personal information, and then submit a bogus return. This sort of identity theft is doubly hard to handle because a police report should be filed, but not surprisingly, many individuals are reluctant to report a family member.

If you still want to know all you can, once your specific identity theft case is wrapped up, you can follow the IRS process for obtaining fraudulent returns. Expect redactions when you receive the return; you’ll find minimal info to unmask the thief. Only four letters of the last name, bank account, and other data are likely to be readable. You won’t receive the full address or the name of the bank that deposited the money, either. So, it may never be possible to identify who fraudulently used your information. The silver lining is that identity theft victims have their IRS files flagged so future returns will be carefully scrutinized.

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