December 4, 2020

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) said this week that beginning in 2021 it will allow all taxpayers to apply for an identity protection personal identification number (IP PIN), a single-use code designed to block identity thieves from falsely claiming a tax refund in your name. Currently, IP PINs are issued only to those who fill out an ID theft affidavit, or to taxpayers who’ve experienced tax refund fraud in previous years.

Tax refund fraud is a perennial problem involving the use of identity information and often stolen or misdirected W-2 forms to electronically file an unauthorized tax return for the purposes of claiming a refund in the name of a taxpayer.

Victims usually first learn of the crime after having their returns rejected because scammers beat them to it. Even those who are not required to file a return can be victims of refund fraud, as can those who are not actually due a refund from the IRS.  

Many of the reasons why refund fraud remains a problem have to do with timing, and some of them are described in more detail here. But the short answer is the IRS is under tremendous pressure to issue refunds quickly and to minimize “false positives” (flagging legitimate claims as fraud) — even when it may not yet have all of the information needed to accurately distinguish phony filings from legitimate ones.

One way the IRS has sought to stem the flow of bogus tax refund applications is to issue the IP PIN, which is a six-digit number assigned to eligible taxpayers to help prevent the use of their Social Security number on a fraudulent income tax return. Each PIN is good only for the tax year for which it was issued.

But up until now, the IRS has restricted who can apply for an IP PIN, although it has over the past few years issued them proactively to some taxpayers as part of a multi-state experiment to determine if doing so more widely might reduce the overall incidence of refund fraud.

The IRS says it will make its Get IP PIN tool available to all taxpayers in mid-January. Until then, if you haven’t already done so you should plant your flag at the IRS by stepping through the agency’s “secure access authentication” process.

Creating an account requires supplying a great deal of personal data; the information that will be requested is listed here.

The signup process requires one to validate ownership of a mobile phone number in one’s name, and it will reject any voice-over-IP-based numbers such as those tied to Skype or Google Voice. If the process fails at this point, the site should offer to send an activation code via postal mail to your address on file.

84 thoughts on “IRS to Make ID Protection PIN Open to All

  1. Matt Fahrner

    That’s interesting, I believe I got PINs as part of filing my first electronic tax return. I’ve used the same PINs since.

    Are these the same PINs? Does an electronic filing also create the same PIN or is this something different?

    1. Duane

      The PIN being discussed here is a 6 digit identity protection PIN. The 5 digit PIN you mentioned is the PIN used as your signature on an e-filed tax return.

  2. Larry Pearson

    This is very scary. I tried to create an account. I put in a lot of sensitive information. The first error is when they did not recognize my cell phone number. (Everybody else does) So I asked for a snail mail PIN. The second was after I had established a U/N and PW. I just got kicked out of the system with an error code. WE LIVE IN A BANANA REPUBLIC!

    1. JCitizen

      I think the term Banana Republic is too complimentary when it comes to the US gubbamint. They have never, and will never have a competent and coordinated computer network or systems.

      1. Bart

        The IRS has been repeatedly underfunded by many administrations over the years.

        1. mealy

          Not to mention Social Security right?

          This is a deliberate John Birch Society paradigm.

        2. Wannabe techguy

          Underfunded? A Federal agency?! You’re joking right?

          1. SeymourB

            Yes, Congress severely cut funding for the IRS back in the 80s and it’s never received sufficient funding ever since. That’s why all the computer systems that were put in place in the 70s are still in use.

            Imagine this. In some countries their revenue agencies tell citizens what their taxes are. They don’t prepare it themselves. No loopholes. No creative accounting. They just pay what they’re told to pay. From the 1% to the masses.

            Of course they’ve properly funded their agencies for decades. And all our current tax cheats would fight such a system tooth and nail.

            1. Beeker25

              That’s called self filing. The only reason it is not allowed in the US is private tax firms such as H&R Block and others fight that because they will lose money they make when people file with them. So the next best thing you can do is use the free file via the IRS website to file electronically.

          2. Beeker25

            Several years ago, the Republicans in Congress cut the IRS budget due to the way the tax exempt status of conservative organization were scrutinized. The real problem is Congress made the process hazy.

    2. JamminJ

      Doesn’t banana republic refer to a politically unstable country with an economy dependent upon the exportation of a limited-resource product?
      At the most broad definition, a corporatocracy in which an industry has a corrupting influence on government.

      An inept bureaucracy is something different.

    3. Tom

      I had the same problem and tried all sorts of combinations – just numbers, with dashes etc. After 4 tries they validated my phone number.

    4. Peter Shenkin

      That is a very strange error code. Are you sure it’s real?

    5. Doug Mitchell

      Well that’s a given. But these are government workers. Did you expect them to know how to develop and test any computer system?
      Just think if they upgraded our nuclear missle systems. Be afraid and grateful that they haven’t upgraded the systems.

  3. ElegantFowl

    Can you confirm they’ll only mail to the address they have on file for me? If so, why are they asking for a mailing address? All this information is available to anyone with my stolen equifax record, so this is the critical loop in their authentication.

    I’ve had previous authentications (for refunds) ask for prior-year tax data, don’t know why they’re not doing that here.

  4. Kevin

    Why do all roads lead to the Denver airport, VIVA LA RESISTANCE WE LIVE IN A BANANA.

  5. B_Parker

    Thanks for the interesting and useful update, Brian.

    General Interest: This morning I tried to ‘plant my flag’ at the IRS. I successfully navigated several screens including confirming my email address. But in attempting to validate a financial account (last 8 digits of a credit card) the IRS was “unable to validate”.

    I have credit freezes with the four major credit reporting companies. The very bottom of the IRS’ financial account validation screen, just before the “submit” button, is a statement I am giving the IRS permission to override my freeze (my words) to validate my information with the credit reporting firm. Apparently that override doesn’t work, so I was unable to plant my flag with the IRS today.

    1. Henry Winokur

      If you have credit freezes on your account(s) that’s why your info cannot be validated. You cannot undo the info from the IRS side. You have to disable the credit lock from the credit bureau side. Once you do that–the confirmation process only takes a couple of minutes–and then you can re-enable it again.

      We’ve had to disable our locks so we could re-finance. But we only disabled for a few hours. Some of the bureaus will actually let you go back in and enable the locks before the actual time commitment has been reached. But in general they are a total PITA (pain in the a$$).

    2. Tom

      I also have my credit services frozen, but was able to validate my credit card. You might try a different card.

      1. DokGii

        I, too, was able to create an account even though my accounts are frozen.
        Can’t say the same creating one for my wife. Entered 3 credit card numbers, none of which validated her identity.
        What now, IRS???

        1. Charles

          I too was unable to validate my identity, despite having temporarily lifted my Experian freeze, and trying three different credit cards. Unfortunately, there is no other way to establish an IRS account.

      2. Ben

        My files are also frozen at the four credit bureaus, and I was able to use my student loan account number. It did NOT accept the first 8 of my credit card number. I asked on Reddit and someone told me that it’s probable that my bank did not report the number to Experian.

    3. Doug Mitchell

      Wow. I had never heard of being able to allow a website to request an override.

      Ripe for hacking, and it probably already has been!

    4. Charles

      Same problem. I temporarily lifted the freeze on my Experian account, but the IRS rejected three different credit cards. I have no other way to validate my identity, so it appears that I cannot “plant my flag”.

  6. mad dog

    The IRS says “it will reject any voice-over-IP-based numbers services such as those tied to Skype or Google Voice. ”
    Yeah, right.
    Those dumbas**es ?
    Oh, sorry. “I’m from the gubmint and I’m here to help.”
    Lord, please save us. You’re our only hope.

  7. Autumn

    Thank you for this information. I created an account this morning, entering the mailing address from my 2019 return even though I moved from there to another state in March. My mobile phone number could not be verified, so I asked for the code to be sent to my address. My USPS change-of-address order is still in effect so I should get the code eventually (hoping it’s within the 30 days it’ll be valid) but I’m wondering whether IRS mail can be forwarded?

    1. James Edwards

      Yes. The USPS will forward your mail as you requested.

  8. Robert Scroggins

    Perhaps it would be best to give the IRS a couple of months to work the bugs out of this, their “latest and greatest” attempt to be more relevant/proactive.


    1. reg

      I had these same problems two years ago, and gave up. So no, it likely won’t be fixed.

  9. TheFed

    Why didn’t these stupid ******* do this 25 years ago?

  10. JWood

    What if you don’t have a mobile number in your name, such as being in a family plan, where the account is listed under a parent, child or sibling? Would you have to get a PIN mailed?

    1. Mr. Bill

      In answer to your question, JWood, yes that will be the case. My cell phone was in the name of my spouse, so I had to have the PIN snail mailed to me.

  11. jdgalt

    Tax professional here.

    The IRS has been issuing Identity Protection PINs to past victims of ID theft for decades now. They’re a good system as far as it goes, but it has one major weakness.

    (1) The IRS sends out a letter once a year, usually between October and January, to give you your PIN for the new year. (For married couples, each of you needs to apply separately and will receive a separate letter.)

    You need to make sure that you get this letter, save it, and BRING IT IN to your tax professional when you get your taxes done.

    If you don’t have a mailbox that locks, you should get one or consider changing the address IRS has for you to a more secure one that does have this feature. It is very common for ID thieves to come to your home and steal your mail when you are at work.

    If IRS receives a return without the PIN entered after they’ve issued you a PIN, they will reject the return and send us back an error message. Then you, the taxpayer, will have to call IRS and provide them with multiple proofs of identity to get them to give you your PIN over the phone.

    More importantly, it takes time, which we don’t have if you are filing during the last two weeks before April 15 or October 15. Forgetting the letter then most likely means your return will be late, and may cost you a penalty.

    One other thing deserves mention. If you live in a state that has state and/or local income taxes, most of those agencies offer IP PINs as well, but you will have to apply for them separately, and each agency will send you a separate annual letter that you also need to save and bring in.

    1. Mahhn

      Thanks for the info. This sound like more of a pain in the arss than effective at protecting anything.
      I will not undo my credit freeze, not get an insecure pin that gets dropped in easy to steal mail – because the cooks can’t either then.
      Sounds like credit freeze is the most secure option still.

      1. jdgalt

        It’s still a good idea to get a PIN, because if you don’t, the crooks can get one by posing as you. In which case good luck convincing IRS afterward that you are really you. I’ve had clients have to contact their congressman to get this fixed.

    2. Ben

      So if you move during the year, you better file that address update form with the IRS state or they will send your PIN to someone else. Great…

  12. usais not real

    usa is not real country too much happening there, its like open door for criminals and fraudsters look at europe the banking and all online system are so safe and secure.
    usa cant just keep with europe well why dont they send their people to other countries to learn IT to make it proper goverment and banking systems lol:D

  13. Phil

    Does ‘Plant your flag’ also include getting this PIN?

    How likely is it that scammers will begin looking for PIN’s associated with people who do not think they have any reason to even think about this? ie – low income ect.

    1. jdgalt

      Having a low income does not protect you at all. Because once a fraudster gets your name and SSN in time to file a return ahead of you, the return they file will have nothing to do with your real income. It will say whatever gets the fraudster a huge refund.

  14. Bill

    I have had an IP PIN for a number of years, and never a problem using it. Hopefully, it has foiled any would-be refund thieves. I’d note that if married filing jointly, you only need one IP PIN.

    I tried to set up an IRS acct. It accepted my Visa card even though my credit accounts are frozen. But it couldn’t recognize my cell phone, so hopefully a pin will show up in the mail one of these days.

    Dealing with identity theft is so painful, that the small annoyances connected with establishing an IRS acct pale by comparison. I’d heartily endorse Brian’s recommendations to “plant you flag”, and apply for an IP PIN when they become available. These pins are long overdue, and will save a lot of hassle and expense for individuals and the IRS.

  15. Jim

    No expert am I. Maybe being naive here. But I seem to have had success for several years using Turbo Tax online (logging into my profile using two factor authentication) and filing electronically from T.T.’s website. Not really anxious to create any separate, direct online profile with the IRS. What am I missing here?

    1. Mark F

      Respectfully . . . I’d say what you are missing is Brian’s “plant your flag” strategy.

      If you register for an IRS account, then the bad guys would have to take it over / hijack it — much harder for them to do than to register an account in your name from scratch.

  16. Steve C#

    If this is a Banana Republic then it may be because we have elected too many mindless monkeys to offices.

  17. Dave

    I don’t have a cell phone and never plan to. Or home phone is VoIP.
    When did it become legal for a USGovt agency to treat people different because they choose to not have a service?

  18. Tonia K Anderson

    What about our taxes still haven’t got mine I’m pissed

  19. Ceira

    I still haven’t received my income tax. I am struggling water is off I have disabled son 15 with celebrasly and autism. Also 2 other kids my son 12 and daughter 3. I work been working since 2003 I provide nessacities for my children but it’s hard

  20. John

    I have a disabled adult son who does not have a cell phone, we use VoIP.

    He has never had any financial accounts, which means he doesn’t have a credit report. Can’t freeze a credit report if you don’t have one.

    Can’t plant his flag most places. I have no idea how to protect him from identify theft.

  21. Obadiah

    Although everyone loves to bitch about the IRS, this is one area where the IRS is doing a good job, thanks to a partnership with all of the states and tax software companies. The Security Summit this year announced: “Between 2015 and 2019, the number of taxpayers reporting they were identity theft victims fell 80%. These are taxpayers who file identity theft affidavits. In 2019, the IRS received 137,000 reports from taxpayers compared to 677,000 in 2015. This was the fourth consecutive year this number declined.” The state tax agencies are helping by sharing data and lessons learned through the ISAC platform. For details see

  22. Tametha

    Hi I’ve been having so many problems with having this so called pin number for about 9 years. They never but only one time sent me a number in the mail if they did I never got it. So they tell me to file a paper tax return. And when I do send in my tax return it’s take about 8 months or more for them to issue my refund, and this is every year, And this year I filed back in May and i still haven’t received my refund and i probably won’t get my refund 2019 until my birthday in April. I hate having to depend on that stupid pin number because it makes it very hard to get what’s mine. And i recommended that no one get that pin number because you’ll never get your tax return on time and filing a return will be will be such a hassle.

  23. Terrence Alexander

    Hello All,

    I filed in april via paper return. I am still waiting for my return to be processed. I attempted to file online. However, I was not able via I was not mailed an identify pin this year.

    The IRS cleared up two tax returns that I didn’t file. The problem is The IRS didn’t update my tax account.

    I am still waiting for my stimulus payment.

    All this time, I couldn’t get an appointment at a tax payer assistance center after the centers reopened.

    Yesterday, I called The IRS. Yesterday, The IRS told me that I will have to call to make an appointment and bring my ID to The Tax Payer Assistance Center.

    Will I ever get the first stimulus payment?

    1. mealy

      You have silently entered the first plane of Hell.


  24. Billy Snyder

    Thanks For Your Help and Services God Bless You All Amen

  25. Notyanky

    Americans are really Can’t undestood even one thing that the same people are behind the Trump and biden.
    One thing I dont undestood? When I was young I started to undestood how the World works… But I dont undestood like how there is so many dumb people older people? If you people dont want to see the truth then dont complain!!

  26. J.S.

    Good. I have the PIN after my ID was stolen few years back (bogus tax return filed in my name). I just logged back on to the IRS to check my account and will its deactivated. I guess since I hadn’t logged on in like 4 years they suspended it and now I have to go through to application process again!? Really dumb, even more so since they couldn’t validate my cell phone so I have to wait for the snail mail code.

    So my advice is if you have an account you probably should log into it at least once a year to keep them from suspending it.

  27. Josh Hosseinof

    The ability to create an account on the IRS website is completely not possible for the millions of Americans living outside the US who still have to file IRS tax returns (i.e. everyone). Part of the setup step requires a US landline or cellular phone number – not a VOIP or Google Voice number. This rules out the vast majority of overseas Americans from registering an account on the IRS website.

  28. Josh Hosseinof

    The alternative for Americans overseas of receiving a PIN by postal mail is also not reliable. Most mail I and other overseas Americans receive from the IRS take almost two months to reach us because the IRS does not actually use the US Postal service for its international mail. It uses a remailer in the Netherlands which probably saves the IRS a few thousand dollars. but it causes the mail take two months to reach me from the IRS instead of the normal two weeks I usually have for all other postal mail from the US.

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