WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service has unveiled new safeguards to protect taxpayers from identity thieves attempting to steal tax refunds.
It's called the "IRS PIN Protection Program" and enables taxpayers to apply for a secure 6-digit PIN through the IRS website or filed with a form that can be mailed.
The program was first launched nearly a decade ago but remained limited to only to taxpayers who had been victims of identity theft and only in certain states.
This tax season, the IRS has expanded the program to all taxpayers.
"You have it, we have it and anyone else who tries to file under your names will be rejected and you will be protected," said IRS spokesperson Louis D. Garcia, who added that a secure PIN must be reapplied for every year.
The added protection couldn't come at a better time as identity theft, especially in Ohio, is skyrocketing. Both Ohio's Governor Mike DeWine and Lt. Governor Jon Husted have recently had their identities stolen.
They are joined by thousands more, including one Cleveland area man who just had his identity stolen and fears "it's like what's going to happen now--you just don't know and it's scary."
For example, the Ohio Department of Jobs & Family Services reports that it has received over 70,000 complaints of identity theft in the wake of fraudulent applications for unemployment assistance.
In the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program alone, ODJFS found 56,000 confirmed fraud cases in December totaling $330 million.
At the IRS in 2019, 442,991 tax returns were identified as confirmed identity theft, preventing $1.87 billion in fraudulent refunds.
Even so, a June 2020 Treasury Inspector General report found "identity thieves still successful in receiving an estimated $90 to $380 million in fraudulent tax refunds."
Steve Weisman is an attorney who operates a website called scamicide.com and warns "there have been a number of data breaches and these are going to lead to billions of dollars' worth of money lost for income tax identity theft."
The IRS advises taxpayers that the identity PIN is good for one year and must be reapplied for each tax year.
IRS: 5 — Complied with all information requests in a reasonable time frame
The IRS was very responsive to our information and interview requests.