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Tax identity theft can occur when someone uses your information to fraudulently file a tax return. If the fraud goes undetected, the scammers can snag a tax refund—which happens thousands of times each year. While you'll still be able to get a refund if you're owed one, falling victim to tax identity theft can make filing your tax return more difficult and delay your refund.
Signing up for an IRS Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) can help keep fraudsters from filing a tax return in your name. Previously, this extra protection was only available nationwide to victims of identity theft. However, starting in 2021, any taxpayer can apply for an IP PIN.
How Do Tax Identity Protection PINs Work?
An Identity Protection PIN is a six-digit code that the IRS can assign to taxpayers. Your IP PIN is tied to your Social Security number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). If you have an IP PIN, you'll add it to your tax return before filing.
Requesting and using an IP PIN could help you fight tax identity theft because the IRS will reject e-filed returns or stop processing paper-filed returns that don't have the correct IP PIN. As a result, scammers won't be able to file a tax return using your information unless they've also stolen your IP PIN.
How to Request an IP PIN
If you're a confirmed victim of tax-related identity theft, the IRS may have already assigned you an IP PIN. Or, if you're dealing with tax-related identity theft, the IRS may assign you an IP PIN once it resolves your case. In these situations, the IRS will mail your PIN on a CP01A notice, and will automatically mail you a new IP PIN each year, around December or January.
If you're voluntarily requesting an IP PIN, the easiest and fastest way to do so is to use the IRS' online Get an IP PIN tool. You'll either create or use your existing IRS.gov account, and then verify your identity by sharing:
- Your email, tax identification number and mailing address
- Your tax filing status
- A financial account number that's linked to your name, such as a credit card, student loan, mortgage or auto loan
- An activation code that's mailed to you or sent to a mobile phone that's registered to your name
If you use the online tool, you can receive your IP PIN as soon as you complete the verification process. The IP PIN will be valid for the current calendar year; you'll need to request a new one the following year.
If you can't use the online tool and your adjusted gross income is less than $72,001, you can submit a request by mail. With this option, the IRS won't mail you an IP PIN until next year, but it will automatically mail you a new one each year.
Another option is to make an in-person appointment at an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center and bring two forms of identification, including a government-issued ID with your picture. After verifying your identity, the IRS will mail you your IP PIN within a few weeks and automatically mail you new IP PINs in the future.
Should You Get a Tax IP PIN?
Although tax identity theft isn't as common as other types of identity theft, it can be a hassle to deal with. Requesting an IP PIN is a free way to help protect yourself. However, before you sign up, remember that:
- Once you're assigned an IP PIN, you have to use it or your tax return won't be accepted and processed.
- You may also have to request a new IP PIN each year going forward to avoid having your return rejected. There is, however, a plan to let taxpayers who have IP PINs opt out starting in 2022.
If your filing status is married filing jointly or you claim dependents, you don't need to request an IP PIN for everyone on your return. But if your spouse or dependents have been assigned an IP PIN, you'll want to list it or your return could be rejected.
If you lose your IP PIN, you may be able to retrieve it using the same online IRS Get an IP PIN tool. Alternatively, you may be able to get your IP PIN reissued by calling the IRS, but it could take a few weeks to receive your new IP PIN in the mail.
Additional Ways to Protect Yourself From Tax Identity Theft
Getting an IP PIN isn't the only way to help prevent tax identity theft, nor is it an infallible solution. You can also:
- File your tax return early. Many taxpayers can begin filing their tax returns by the end of January. Filing early will prevent fraudsters from using your information to file a tax return in your name, at least for the current tax year.
- Protect your personal information. Ideally, fraudsters won't be able to use your personal information to file a fraudulent return because they don't have access to it. There are many ways to help protect your personal information, including using strong passwords online, shredding paper documents and being wary of phishing attempts.
- Never share your IP PIN. If you decide to get an IP PIN, never share it with anyone aside from a trusted tax preparer. After requesting an IP PIN by mail, the IRS may call you to verify your identity—but the IRS will never ask for your IP PIN.
Tax identity theft isn't the only type of identity theft you need to worry about—and others could wind up being more costly to resolve. You may want to sign up for a free credit monitoring service to quickly identify if someone else uses your information to take out a loan or open a credit account. There are also identity theft protection services, such as Experian IdentityWorks℠, that offer more robust monitoring and recovery assistance.