Tax-Related ID Theft

Consumer Alert

Bill Schuette
Attorney General

The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern. Consumer alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.

Tax-Related Identity Theft

The increased popularity of electronic filing of tax returns has made it easier for tax identity theft to thrive. Tax identity theft is now a popular and relatively easy way for tax scammers to steal money.  As one former tax thief told 60 Minutes: “’I could wake up in the comfort of my own home, and just get on a laptop, do about 15 returns a day. Fifteen times $3,000 a return, that’s $45,000 a day.’” In 2013, crooks took $5.3 billion from the US Treasury through tax ID fraud. 

Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. Because many taxpayers have more withheld from their paychecks than they owe, they will need to file claims for refunds from the IRS. Taxpayers can file tax returns and claim a refund as soon as employers issue W-2 forms to employees that show the income earned and the amount of taxes withheld. 

Employers have until January 31st after the tax year ends to give employees their W-2 forms—and they have until the end of March to file that W-2 information with the IRS. Because tax refunds may be issued before employer W-2 information is received and verified by the IRS, fraudsters have a window to submit fake tax returns. And a refund can be sent to any address or account the fraudster specifies. All of this occurs without the taxpayer’s knowledge.

The IRS is often the first to inform a taxpayer that tax identity theft has occurred. This may be discovered when a victim’s return is rejected, which can occur quickly if the taxpayer files electronically. But if the taxpayer files by mail, no expected refund will appear and it will take longer for the IRS to notify the taxpayer about the fraudulent return.

In other cases, a taxpayer may first learn of the fraud from some other unexpected source, like when the taxpayer is turned down for a loan because a fake return was filed reporting an income less than what the taxpayer actually earns. 

Don’t think that you are not a target because you do not make a lot of money or have a large refund to claim. Tax ID scammers try to stay under IRS radar and therefore, they tend to keep their claims under $4,000.00.

What to do if you are a Victim of Tax ID fraud:

  • Exhale. Remember that even if a false refund is claimed and issued in your name, ID scammers don’t actually steal “your” refund money: they steal it from the federal government. If you are legally entitled to a tax refund, being a victim of ID tax theft will not change that.Fraudsters can delay you from getting your refund, which can be painful, but you will, eventually, get your refund.

  • Victims should immediately contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. Report the fraud and ask for ID Theft Affidavit Form 1439 (form is also available online through Publication 5027 Identity Theft Information for Taxpayers). Complete the form and continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must do so by paper.

How to Protect yourself from Tax ID fraud:

  • One of the most effective ways to protect yourself from this type of identity theft is to file your tax return as soon as possible, and protect your data and personal information.

  • Crooks like to convince you they are legitimate by using your name, address, or other personal information to get you to give them more personal information. Don’t fall for it!

  • An alternative strategy suggested by those practiced in risk management encourages you to adjust your withholding –especially when life changes like marriage or new dependents occur. If you don’t give the government more money that you need to, then you won’t be at risk waiting for a large tax refund if you are a victim of ID tax theft.

For more identity theft prevention measures, look at the Attorney General’s Identity Theft Information for Michigan Consumers alert.

Additional Information

Consumers may contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at:

Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
517-373-1140
Fax: 517-241-3771
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online Complaint Form