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CHIPS Articles: Be a DON Cyber Sentry – Don’t Become a Victim of Tax Fraud

Be a DON Cyber Sentry – Don’t Become a Victim of Tax Fraud
By Suzette Thompson - January-March 2021
The Department of the Navy Chief Information Office (DON CIO) Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) Team continues to promote the need for everyone to be vigilant about protecting data, whether it is DON data or your personal data. Like sentries standing guard to prevent unauthorized access, everyone in the DON enterprise must become a 'Cyber Sentry' and be 'Cyber Ready’. By becoming a sentry and being ready, you are ensuring the protection of DON data from bad actors whose intent is to cause harm.

You can incorporate this mindset as you begin your 2020 tax preparations. If you are like many individuals, you may have to wait until you are able to acquire all the necessary documents required to file your 2020 tax return. Unfortunately, there is a risk in delaying the inevitable. During this time, unknown to you, tax identity thieves may file a fraudulent tax return under your Social Security number (SSN). As the victim, you may not be aware of this fraudulent activity until you file your tax return some time later and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rejects your return as a duplicative filing.

Tax-related identity theft occurs every year. In 2019, there were 27,454 known cases of Tax Identity Fraud reported to the Internal Revenue Service. In the same category as tax theft, there were 19,835 known cases of Wage-Related Identity Fraud reported to the IRS, for a total of 47,289 cases in tax-related identity thefts, according to the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2019. The IRS identified $2.3B in tax fraud in 2020, including fraud resulting from identity theft, according to its 2020 Annual Report.

Know the Signs of Identity Theft

Be alert to the possibility that your identity may have been compromised if:

  • You receive a letter from the IRS inquiring about a suspicious tax return that you did not file.
  • You can’t e-file your tax return because of a duplicate Social Security number.
  • You receive a tax transcript in the mail that you did not request.
  • You receive an IRS notice that an online account has been created in your name.
  • You receive an IRS notice that your existing online account has been accessed or disabled when you took no action.
  • You receive an IRS notice that you owe additional tax or a refund offset, or that you have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return.
  • IRS records indicate you received wages or other income from an employer you didn’t work for.

If your SSN is compromised and you know or suspect you are a victim of tax-related identity theft, the IRS recommends the following steps:

  • Respond immediately to any IRS notice; call the number provided.
  • If your e-filed return is rejected because of a duplicate filing under your Social Security number, or if the IRS instructs you to do so, complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit PDF. Use a fillable form at, print, then attach the form to your return and mail your return according to instructions.
  • Visit for steps you should take right away to protect yourself and your financial accounts.

Fraudulent Returns


If you previously contacted the IRS and did not have a resolution, contact them for specialized assistance at 800-908-4490.

Keep your Identity Safe:

To reduce your risk of being becoming a victim, implement the following best practices:

  • File your tax return as early as possible.
  • Always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections.
  • Use strong passwords.
  • Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails, threatening calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations such as your bank, credit card companies and even the IRS.
  • Do not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
  • Protect your personal information and that of any dependents. Don’t routinely carry Social Security cards, and make sure your tax records are secure.

It is important to know that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media.

For more information:

When it comes to ensuring the protection of data, whether it is DON data or your own, be a DON Cyber Sentry and be Cyber Ready. Be vigilant, continuously monitor data during transactions ensuring its protection and always be alert to activity you do not recognize.

Please visit the DON CIO website,, where the DON CIO CISO team has published additional information about the Information Superiority Vision’s Defend Strategic Initiatives: Cybersecurity, Privacy, and Identity Protection.

Suzette Thompson is a privacy analyst in the DON CIO Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) Directorate, Privacy Section.

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