Stolen Identity Refund Fraud

ALERT: The IRS does not send unsolicited email, text messages or use social media to discuss your personal tax issues. If you receive a telephone call from someone claiming to be an IRS employee and demanding money, you should consult the IRS Tax Scams/Consumer Alerts webpage: If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or at

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 have cost the United States Treasury billions of dollars.

SIRF crimes are often perpetrated by large criminal enterprises with individuals at all stages of the scheme: those who steal the Social Security Numbers (SSN) and other 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.  For example, SIRF criminals have used Social Security Numbers stolen from hospitals, nursing homes, and public death lists, thereby exploiting some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, including the elderly, the infirm, and grieving families.  However, everyone with a Social Security Number is potentially vulnerable to having his or her identity stolen.  The IRS estimated that during the 2013 filing season alone, over 5 million tax returns were filed using stolen identities, claiming approximately $30 billion in refunds.  The IRS was able to stop or recover over $24 billion of that total, or approximately 81% of the fraudulent claims.

Typically SIRF perpetrators file the false returns electronically, early in the tax filing season so that the IRS receives the false SIRF return before legitimate taxpayers have time to file their returns. 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 involves a national strategy of information sharing and coordinated prosecution. The nationwide 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 with local law enforcement and police, makes it possible for the Government to respond efficiently and forcefully to the explosion of SIRF crimes. As part of this effort, the Division has established an Advisory Board of experienced prosecutors to develop and implement uniform national policies for fighting SIRF crimes.  The Tax Division also implemented expedited procedures for working with the United States Attorneys’ Offices on SIRF crimes to ensure the quickest possible investigation and prosecution of these cases and has worked with United States Attorneys’ Offices, the IRS, and other law enforcement agencies, to establish task forces in areas with a high concentration of SIRF crime.  Additionally, the Division works closely with the IRS to quickly share information obtained from SIRF investigations and prosecutions, which the IRS can use to make it more difficult for the schemes to be successful by blocking the false claims for refunds from being paid.

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 by the Justice Department to prosecute these crimes.

Press Release Announcing SIRF Enforcement Initiative

Directive 144

April 10, 2013
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:

October 7, 2015
Maryland Man Sentenced to Prison for Role in Massive Identity Theft and Tax Fraud Scheme

October 6, 2015
Louisiana Resident Sentenced for Involvement in Stolen Identity Tax Fraud Scheme

October 2, 2015
Alabama Woman Pleads Guilty for Involvement in Stolen Identity Tax Refund Fraud Ring

September 30, 2015
Two North Carolina Men Sentenced to Prison for Conspiracy and Identity Theft

September 29, 2015
Louisiana Resident Sentenced for Involvement in Stolen Identity Tax Fraud Scheme

September 25, 2015
Ringleader of $24 Million Stolen Identity Tax Refund Fraud Ring Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison

September 15, 2015
Louisiana Resident Sentenced for Role in Stolen Identity Tax Fraud Scheme


More SIRF-Related Press Releases

Links to Identity Theft Information and Resources


Updated October 7, 2015