Tax Identity Theft
November 1, 2022 - This copyrighted article was originally posted on the Armanino LLP blog. Reprinted with permission.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported nearly 1.4 million reports of identity theft in 2021, with a primary driver of that spike being tax identity theft.
It’s obvious that individuals can’t afford to ignore the threat of tax identity theft, but the IRS has taken some measures to combat the epidemic that has implications for employers, too. Businesses also need to be aware of the risk of tax identity theft they face. Criminals aren’t just pursuing Social Security numbers (SSNs)—they’re also going after employer ID numbers (EINs) assigned by the IRS.
What Is Tax Identity Theft?
Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses a stolen Social Security number (SSN) to file a tax return to claim a fraudulent refund. In addition, a fraudster might use another’s SSN to obtain a job. The employer then reports that person’s income to the IRS under the stolen SSN. The victim, obviously, won’t include those earnings when filing his or her tax return, so IRS records will indicate that the victim underreported income.
How Does Tax Identity Theft Occur?
A taxpayer's SSN can be stolen through a data breach, a computer hack or a lost wallet. Additionally, these thefts can often be traced back to the victim’s place of employment. Insiders at a company may steal the numbers and other employee or customer information. Perpetrators also might wait until staff members let their guards down and leave SSNs readily accessible on computers or in waste receptacles. And, of course, individuals may simply be careless with their SSNs and other sensitive information.
But filing fraudulent returns isn’t the only way that taxpayers are victimized. Scam artists are using multiple channels to conduct their tax-related identity theft schemes, including:
Phone schemes. This past April, less than 10 days after the tax return filing deadline, the IRS highlighted a new phone scam conducted by fraudsters who program their computers to display the phone number of the local IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC) on the taxpayer’s Caller ID. If the taxpayer questions the legitimacy of the caller’s demand for a tax payment, the caller directs him or her to IRS.gov to verify the local TAC phone number.
The perpetrator hangs up, calls back after a short period — again “spoofing” the TAC number — and resumes the demand for money. These scam artists generally require payment on a debit card, which allows them to directly access the victim’s bank account.
In another phone scheme, the criminals claim they’re calling from the IRS to verify tax return information. They tell taxpayers that the agency has received their returns and simply needs to confirm a few details to process them. The taxpayers are prompted to provide personal information such as an SSN and bank or credit card numbers.
Digital schemes. Emails that appear to be from the IRS are part of phishing schemes intended to trick the recipients into revealing sensitive information that can be used to steal their identities. The emails may seek information related to refunds, filing status, transcript orders or PIN information.
The scammers have developed twists on this approach, too. The emails might seem to come from an individual’s tax preparer and request information needed for an IRS filing. Or the information request could arrive via text messages. Whether by text or email, the communication states that “you are to update your IRS e-file immediately” and includes a link to a fake website that mirrors the official IRS site. Emails also could include links that cause the recipients to download malware that infects their computers and tracks their keystrokes or allows access to files stored on their computers.
Click here to see the rest of the article that includes tips on how to know if your identity has been stolen, how to avoid tax identity theft, and what to do if your identity has been stolen. This information is for personal and business use.