Form 14039 explained

Asian businessman contemplating Form 14039, sitting in office and looking tired.Image: Asian businessman contemplating Form 14039, sitting in office and looking tired.

In a Nutshell

When someone files a fraudulent tax return in your name, you could lose your refund or end up with a tax bill, plus end up with incorrect information on your tax records. Form 14039, the Identity Theft Affidavit, lets the IRS know that an electronic return with your Social Security number has already been filed. The agency can then conduct an investigation and work to correct problems caused by the fraudulent filing.
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If someone gets your Social Security number, that person might file a tax return in your name.

According to the IRS, in 2017, around 75% of individual income tax returns filed with the Internal Revenue Service resulted in a refund, which averaged $2,782. The IRS sent out more than $302.5 billion in refunds over the course of that year — which means a lot of money was released to tax filers.

Unfortunately, many fraudsters know that filing a phony tax return can earn them a check from the IRS — so there are scammers who steal Social Security numbers and file tax forms requesting refunds that don’t belong to them. Tax identity theft is a major problem, with 597,000 tax returns with confirmed identity theft in 2017 and 883,000 confirmed cases in 2016.

When a fraudulent tax return is filed in your name and the problem isn’t caught, the IRS may send out your refund to the fraudster. Or if the IRS discovers inaccurate information on a fraudulent return it refunded — such as an income that was too low or credits you didn’t earn — the IRS could send you a tax bill or initiate collections activity against you later on for a year you didn’t even file a tax return.

If you suspect you may be a victim of this insidious crime, you may need to file Form 14039. Also known as the Identity Theft Affidavit, this form can be sent to the IRS to inform them that you may be a victim of identity theft and trigger an investigation to identify the fraudulent tax return, to ensure your actual return is properly processed and to get you any refund you’re legitimately owed.

Who should file Form 14039?

Not every instance of tax-related identity theft means you have to file Form 14039. The IRS says that most taxpayers don’t ever need to file this form, because the IRS typically catches suspicious tax filings and contacts taxpayers to complete a process of identity verification before their returns are processed.

There are only a few situations in which the IRS wants a taxpayer to file Form 14039. This identity theft affidavit should be filed if …

  • You can’t file your tax return electronically using your correct Social Security number, and you receive a notification a return has already been filed with your information.
  • The IRS sends you a notice alerting you to possible identity theft and instructing you to file Form 14039.
  • You have reason to suspect you’re a victim of tax-related identity theft. For example, your identity may have been stolen for other purposes.

If you’ve filed Form 14039 and the IRS discovers another tax return submitted using your information, your case will be referred to the Identity Theft Victim Assistance organization. This agency will conduct an investigation and help resolve any issues created by the identity theft.

How do you file Form 14039?

Form 14039 can be obtained from the Department of the Treasury and is a simple two-page form. To complete the form, you’ll need to provide information, including …

  • Check a box to indicate whether you’re submitting the form on your own behalf, on behalf of a dependent child or relative, or on someone else’s behalf.
  • Specify why you’re submitting the form
    • In response to an IRS request
    • Because you know someone used your information to file a fraudulent tax return
    • Because you know your identity has been stolen
  • Explain why you’re filling out the form. The IRS requests that you include details about how you learned of the identity theft and any relevant dates, such as the date you tried to file a tax return and were told one had already been submitted.
  • Provide details on your name, current mailing address, the address used last time you filed a tax return and the language in which you’d like to receive information. Note that you’ll provide the victim’s information if you’re filling out the form on someone else’s behalf.
  • Detail the years in which you believe you experienced tax-related identity theft.
  • Specify the last year in which you filed a tax return, as well as the name(s) used on any past tax forms.
  • Sign and declare that all the information you’re providing is true.

The form can be submitted via mail or fax, but the IRS requests that you submit using only one method to avoid delays. The IRS also indicates that you can submit the form with your paper tax return if you cannot e-file your taxes.

What happens after you file Form 14039?

When the IRS receives your Identity Theft Affidavit, you can expect to be sent a letter of acknowledgement. The IRS can then forward your information to the Identity Theft Victims Assistance organization to investigate your case and help clear up the problems caused by identity theft if another return is on your account.

The organization will determine whether identity thieves filed fraudulent tax returns affecting one or more tax years and will investigate whether the scammer listed other victims.  Tax forms submitted in your name will be checked carefully for signs of fraud, and any returns you didn’t actually file will be removed from your tax records.

You’ll then be provided with notification that the issues related to the fraudulent return have been resolved, and your tax account will be marked with a special identity theft indicator to indicate you’ve been a prior victim of identity theft.

You may also be placed into an Identity Protection PIN program, which would mean you’d be given a special six-digit PIN number annually that must be included on your tax returns.

The processing of your Form 14039 and the resulting investigation takes around 120 days in most cases, but sometimes takes 180 days or longer, so you’ll need to be patient. Any refund you’re due will be released to you after your identity has been verified.

Bottom line

If you’ve had your identity stolen or you’ve tried to e-file your taxes and have been told a return was already filed in your name, don’t panic. The IRS has a process in place that often begins with submitting Form 14039. After you submit the Identity Theft Affidavit, the IRS can investigate whether a scammer filed a fraudulent tax return in your name. If so, the IRS will help you fix the problem so that you can receive any refund you’re due and help protect your account in the future.

About the author: Christy Rakoczy Bieber is a full-time personal finance and legal writer. She is a graduate of UCLA School of Law and the University of Rochester. Christy was previously a college teacher with experience writing textbo… Read more.