Beware of Altered IRS Forms Used for Identity Theft

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The use of fictitious Internal Revenue Service (IRS) correspondence has become a common means to trick individuals into disclosing personal and financial information. Unscrupulous individuals collect personal information for purposes such as raiding bank accounts, opening charge cards, acquiring cell phones, and unethically harming unsuspecting individuals.

They become victims of identity fraud. These growing numbers of victims have experienced harassment from collection agencies, difficulty obtaining credit, job loss, and even arrest; all in addition to monetary losses and mental trauma.

To protect yourself from having your identity stolen, guard your personal information and always verify the validity of any forms or correspondence requesting you to divulge personal information. If you have any question at all, look up the number and call the organization that sent the correspondence BEFORE supplying any information. Do not rely on phone numbers provided with correspondence.

An example of a fraudulent alteration to an IRS form that occurred in the Caribbean, Europe, and South America involved IRS Form W-8BEN, Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding. The legitimate IRS version of this form is ordinarily used by nonresident alien taxpayers who have income from a U.S. source to indicate they are the beneficial owner. The legitimate form does not request personal information except name, address, and in some cases, a social security or IRS-generated taxpayer identification number.

The PHONY Form W-8BEN collects information not requested on the official IRS form. This information includes facts perpetrators of fraud typically collect:

Date of birth

Social security number
Passport number
Bank name
Account number, type, and date opened
E-mail address
Daytime phone number
Frequency of U.S. visits
Information about spouses, children, and parents

In the example above, instructions with the phony IRS Form W-8BEN direct the recipient to fax the form to a phone number contained in the correspondence, a common method for fraudsters to gather information. Other methods include e-mail, phone calls, and general mail; essentially all methods of communications are exploited. Correspondence in the W-8BEN example contains threats of taxation at the maximum rate unless the requested information is received.

Threats are common in identity theft. New forms and methods to perpetrate fraud show up every day. Be aware and safeguard your personal information.

To report suspected attempts at identity theft, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and follow the steps listed on their website. The FTC phone number is 877.FTC.HELP.

Validity of any IRS forms should be checked with a professional tax preparer or on the IRS website.

Report any fraudulent forms to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 800.366.4484, fax 202.927.7018, or mail to TIGTA Hotline, P.O. Box 589, Ben Franklin Station, Washington, D.C. 20044-0589.

Members of the National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP) strive to assist taxpayers with information and knowledge. NATP is a nonprofit professional association founded in 1979 and is committed to excellence in the tax profession. Our national headquarters, located in Appleton, WI, employs 43 professionals and 25 instructors. NATP exists to serve professionals who work in all areas of tax practice and has more than 17,000 members nationwide. Members include individual practitioners, enrolled agents, certified public accountants, accountants, attorneys, and financial planners. Learn more at

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