April 5, 2021

Where’s My 2020 Federal Income Tax Refund?

Hold On! The IRS is Taking Steps to Prove Taxpayer Identity

By Frank Suponcic, Partner, Valuation, Forensic and Litigation Advisory Services

Where’s My 2020 Federal Income Tax Refund? Investigations, Forensic Accounting & Integrity Services

Maybe your 2020 federal income tax refund hasn’t arrived yet. You’re concerned. In your mailbox is an official looking letter from the IRS. How do you know that that IRS letter is not yet another phishing attempt to lure you to divulge your personal identifying information necessary to further any identity theft crime?

Not every taxpayer receiving a federal income tax refund will have a problem. However, it is possible that, for whatever reason, your 2020 tax return is deemed to be “suspicious” by the IRS.

Federal income tax refund fraud has skyrocketed over the past few years, and the IRS is taking additional measures to mitigate the payment of fraudulent tax refunds before it sends out some 2020 refund checks. The tool is a 5071-C letter. The 5071-C letter is not new. But it is proving valuable as a part of the agency’s ongoing anti-fraud initiative to reduce escalating income tax refund fraud.

The letter will direct you to contact the IRS one of two ways. First, you can try www.idverify.irs.gov and answer questions online, or you can call 1-800-830-5084 between 7am and 7pm, where an IRS employee will ask you questions from your tax filings in 2020 and any of the prior three years.

If you receive a 5071-C letter and you did not file a 2020 federal income tax return, you need to contact the IRS (at the same number and website provided) immediately, as someone HAS used your personal information to file a fraudulent income tax return. In that case, you have more (and immediate) work to do to mitigate any personal losses and inconveniences.

The IRS will ask you specific income tax return-related questions based on returns in their system. As a result, you will want to be prepared and have in front of you: 1) the 5071-C letter, 2) your 2020 federal income tax return, if filed subsequently to receiving the 5071-C letter, 3) one additional income tax return from the last three years, and 4) all supporting documents related to the income tax returns in front of you, such as W-2s and 1099s.

Failing to respond will further delay your 2020 federal income tax refund. In the worst case, you’ll receive a follow up letter from the IRS asking you to bring all of the necessary records to your local IRS office and show them to an IRS representative in person. Once the IRS has validated your identity, it will process your 2020 refund, which may take up to nine weeks to receive.

From the date of the 5071-C letter, you have 20 days to respond to the IRS Taxpayer Protection Hotline and verify your identity. Failing to timely respond will not void your refund; it’ll just delay your refund further.

Will fraudsters attempt to use the format and layout of the IRS’s 5071-C letter and divert recipients to a fraudulent phone number or website address? Of course. It’s probably happening already. Identity thieves can be convincingly creative. The intention is to dupe you. And many times they are ahead of the game when it comes to compromising your identity.

When in doubt, call the IRS directly at 1-800-830-5084 or access the website www.idverify.irs.gov to verify that you have been sent a legitimate 5071-C letter.

It’s critical to note: the IRS will never send a 5071-C letter by text or email. The IRS will also not initiate an inquiry by phone.