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Stolen Identity Refund Fraud

Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) Enforcement

One of the Tax Division’s highest priorities is prosecuting people who use stolen identities to steal money from the United States Treasury by filing fake tax returns that claim tax refunds. Working to stop Stolen Identity Refund Fraud, or SIRF, is vital because these schemes threaten to disrupt the orderly administration of the income tax system for hundreds of thousands of law abiding taxpayers and to cost the United States Treasury billions of dollars.

SIRF crimes are complicated to prosecute because they are often perpetrated by large criminal enterprises with individuals at all stages of the scheme: those who steal the Social Security Numbers (SSN) and personal identifying information, those who file false returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), those who facilitate obtaining the refunds, and the masterminds who promote the schemes. These criminal enterprises are able to exploit the speed and relative anonymity of highly automated systems for storing personal information, preparing and filing tax returns electronically, and generating income tax refunds quickly—often in the form of electronic payments.

Identities used in SIRF crimes may be stolen from anywhere. SIRF criminals have used social security numbers stolen from institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes, and public death lists, thereby exploiting some of the most vulnerable members of our communities—the elderly, the infirm, grieving families. However, everyone with a social security number is potentially vulnerable to having their identity stolen. According to the IRS, from 2008 through May of 2012, the Service has identified more than 550,000 taxpayers who have had their identities stolen for the purpose of claiming false refunds in their names.

Typically SIRF perpetrators file the false returns electronically, early in the tax filing season so that the IRS receives the false SIRF return before the legitimate holder of the social security number has time to file their return. The SIRF perpetrators arrange to have the refunds electronically transferred to debit cards or delivered to addresses where they can steal the refund out of the mail.

SIRF crimes cross state borders, and increasingly, national borders. Successfully prosecuting the wrongdoers requires a national strategy of information sharing and coordinated prosecution. The nation-wide reach of the Tax Division’s centralized criminal tax enforcement and its ability to coordinate closely with every United States Attorney’s Office, and through them local law enforcement and police, makes it possible for the Government to respond efficiently and forcefully to the explosion of SIRF crimes. Moreover, the Tax Division has created expedited procedures for working with the United States Attorneys’ Offices on SIRF crimes to ensure the quickest possible investigation and prosecution of these cases. Additionally, the Division works closely with the Internal Revenue Service to quickly share information obtained from our investigations and prosecutions of SIRF cases that the IRS can use to make it more difficult for the schemes to be successful by blocking the refunds from being paid in the first place.

The Tax Division has had considerable success in SIRF prosecutions, which have generated long sentences for those convicted of SIRF crimes. This page contains links to articles, websites, and press releases with information on how the Justice Department and IRS are dealing with SIRF crimes, guidance for citizens whose identities have been stolen and used to file false tax returns, and efforts of the Justice Department to prosecute these crimes.

- Kathryn Keneally, Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division

Press Release Announcing SIRF Enforcement Initiative

Directive 144

AAG Memo Announcing Expedited Review of SIRF Cases (Sept. 18, 2012)

April 10, 2013
Statement of Assistant Attorney General Keneally before Senate Special Committee on Aging

November 4, 2011
Statement of Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Criminal Matters Ron Cimino before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Organization, Efficiency and Financial Management

Latest Press Releases:

More SIRF-Related Press Releases

Links to Identity Theft Information and Resources



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General Information Office of the Tax Division
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Tamara W. Ashford
Assistant Attorney General (Acting)
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Tax Division
(202) 514-2901
Schemes and Scams
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