IRS Proposes Truncated Taxpayer Identification Numbers to Curb Identity Theft

The Internal Revenue Service has issued proposed regulations to create a new taxpayer identifying number known as the IRS Truncated Taxpayer Identification Number, or TTIN, that can be used instead of a Social Security number in response to the growing problem of identity theft-related tax fraud.

The TTIN would provide an alternative to using a Social Security number (SSN), Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), or IRS Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number (ATIN). The filer of certain information returns would be able to use a TTIN on the corresponding payee statements to identify the individual being furnished a statement. The TTIN would display only the last four digits of an individual’s identifying number and is shown in the format XXX-XX-1234 or ***-**-1234.

The IRS has been struggling to curb identity theft. From 2008 through the middle of 2012, the IRS identified more than 600,000 taxpayers who have been affected by identity theft. Last tax season, the IRS added filters to its system to check for signs of identity theft, stop suspicious tax returns and contact the taxpayer before the return is processed, but that in turn led to delayed tax refunds for millions of taxpayers (see Fraudulent Tax Refund Attempts Caused Delays for Legitimate Taxpayers in 2012). The IRS has also enhanced the use of Identity Protection Personal Identification Numbers for identity theft victims.

In 2011 the IRS protected $1.4 billion in refunds from being erroneously sent to identity thieves, according to the IRS Advisory Council. Through mid-April 2012, the IRS had stopped over 325,000 questionable returns with $1.75 billion in claimed refunds using filters specifically targeting refund fraud.

However, the impact of identity theft on tax administration is significantly greater than the amount the IRS detects and prevents, according to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. TIGTA’s analysis of tax returns using characteristics of IRS-confirmed identity theft has identified approximately 1.5 million tax returns with potentially fraudulent tax refunds totaling in excess of $5.2 billion. TIGTA estimates that the IRS could potentially issue $21 billion in fraudulent tax refunds over the next five years as a result of identity theft.

The IRS’s proposed regulations would affect the filers of certain information returns who will be permitted to identify an individual payee by use of a TTIN on the payee statement furnished to the individual, and those individuals who receive payee statements containing a TTIN. The TTIN can be used in payee statements on 1099, 1098 and 5498 series forms, except for the 1098-C. The IRS has already begun testing the use of the TTIN under a 2011 pilot program.

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