Small Businesses: IRS Advice on Averting Identity Theft

Practice Areas

By: Pratibha Lakshmanan

The IRS, state tax agencies and the nation’s tax industry joined together to warn small businesses to be on-guard against a growing wave of identity theft against employers.

Small business identity theft is a big business for identity thieves. Just like individuals, businesses may have their identities stolen and their sensitive information used to open credit card accounts or used to file fraudulent tax refunds for bogus refunds.

In the past year, the Internal Revenue Service has noted a sharp increase in the number of fraudulent Forms 1120, 1120S and 1041 as well as Schedule K-1. The fraudulent filings apply to partnerships as well as estate and trust forms.

Identity thieves are displaying a sophisticated knowledge of the tax code and industry filing practices as they attempt to obtain valuable data to help file fraudulent returns. Security Summit partners have expanded efforts to better protect business filers and to better identify suspected identity theft returns.

Identity thieves have long made use of stolen Employer Identification Numbers (EINs) to create fake Forms W-2 that they would file with fraudulent individual tax returns. Fraudsters also used EINs to open new lines of credit or obtain credit cards. Now, they are using company names and EINs to file fraudulent returns.

As with fraudulent individual returns, there are certain signs that businesses can look out that may indicate identity theft. Be alert to potential identity theft and contact the IRS if they experience any of these issues:

  • Extension to file requests are rejected because a return with the Employer Identification Number or Social Security number is already on file;
  • An e-filed return is rejected because of a duplicate EIN/SSN is already on file with the IRS;
  • An unexpected receipt of a tax transcript or IRS notice that doesn’t correspond to anything submitted by the filer.
  • Failure to receive expected and routine correspondence from the IRS because the thief has changed the address.

The most important measure to prevent any chance of identity theft is to safeguard your information. If, in the unfortunate circumstance, you believe your business is a victim of identity theft, contact your local law enforcement agency, the business credit bureaus, as well as your company’s credit and bank providers to report the theft.

Sole proprietorships that file Schedule C and partnerships filing Schedule K-1 with Form 1040 also will be asked to provide additional information items, such as a driver’s license number. Providing this information will help the IRS and States identify suspicious business-related returns.

For small businesses looking for a place to start on security, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) produced Small Business Information Security: The Fundamentals. NIST is the branch of the U.S. Commerce Department that sets information security frameworks followed by federal agencies.

The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) has Resources for Small and Midsize Businesses. Many secretaries of state also provide resources on business-related identity theft as well.

The IRS, state tax agencies and the tax industry are working together to fight against tax-related identity theft and to protect business and individual taxpayers. Everyone can help. Take steps recommended by cyber experts and visit the Identity Protection: Prevention, Detection and Victim Assistance for information about business-related identity theft.