Pamela Yip: If you get this letter from the IRS, it's legit

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

March 30, 2015

A couple concerned about identity theft during income tax-filing season sent me a copy of what they thought was questionable correspondence from the IRS.

"This weekend, we received in the U.S. mail a letter marked from the IRS stating they had questions regarding our tax year 2014 filing," they said in a note. "We have not yet filed our 2014 taxes. Also, it did not show any portion of our Social Security number. We also received a copy of the same letter on Monday, 3/16/15."

The letter said the IRS had received a copy of the coupleís tax return and needed more information to verify their identity so their return could be processed.

The letter directed them to visit a secure website ó ó or call a toll-free IRS telephone number to provide the information.

Understandably, the couple were afraid they were being scammed.

"My husband turned 65 last summer and we wondered if they (ID thieves) were targeting seniors in an IRS mailing scam now," said the wife, who didnít want to be identified out of fear of being victimized.

What the couple received was legitimate correspondence from the IRS.

Itís called a "5071C" letter, said Clay Sanford, IRS spokesman. The letter number can be found in the upper right-hand corner of the page.

"Taxpayers should use the secure website listed on the letter or the number on the letter for more information," he said.

Only taxpayers who got the 5071C letter should access the special website.

The website will ask questions that only the real taxpayer can answer.

Once the identity is verified, taxpayers can confirm whether or not they filed the return in question.

If they didnít file the return, the IRS can take steps to assist them. If they did file the return, it will take about six weeks to process it and issue a refund.

Taxpayers may receive such a letter when the IRS stops suspicious tax returns that have indications of being identity theft but contain a real taxpayerís name and/or Social Security number.

"It is one way that the IRS is trying to stop refunds from going into the wrong hands," Sanford said.

My readers may have a problem on their hands. I asked Sanford how the IRS could have flagged them when they hadnít filed their return.

"It is possible someone else has filed a return" with their Social Security number, Sanford said.

If you get a 5071C letter, you will need to have your prior year tax return and your current year tax return, if you filed one, including supporting documents, such as Forms W-2 and 1099 and Schedules A and C.

My readers were wise to question what they received in the mail. Sadly, there are many crooks out there trying to get their hands on honest taxpayersí tax refunds.

But if you receive a 5071C letter you can be assured it is legit.

"Letter 5071C is mailed through the U.S. Postal Service to the address on the return," the IRS said. "The IRS does not request such information via email, nor will the IRS call a taxpayer directly to ask this information without you receiving a letter first."

You can never be too careful these days.