Consumer Alert: Smile! The IRS may ask you for a selfie before you can get your refund

ROCHESTER. N.Y. (WHEC) — Have you filed your taxes yet? Many taxpayers are getting a surprise in the mail, and no, it’s not their refund. A viewer reached out to me after getting a concerning letter from the IRS. It said she needed to verify her identity before she could get her refund. But it’s the method of verification that made viewer, Linda Romig, really suspicious.

RIS – Viewer Letter by News10NBC on Scribd

The retired teacher thought filing her own taxes would be easy.

"I was so proud of myself when I got the indication from them that my refund was in my account, so I was like, yes! I did it right!” Romig said. “And that was great until I got home, and got this letter saying that I wasn’t going to get my refund.

The letter said quote, "We need to verify your identity before we process the income tax return, issue a refund, or credit any overpayments to your account.”

Romig is not alone. Across the country, taxpayers are getting letters after they file because the IRS has reason to suspect identity theft.

The government has hired a private company called to verify your identity.

"So I went online and I saw this take a selfie and do a biometric picture of yourself, and it scared the heck out of me,” she recalled.

It scared lawmakers as well. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle raised concerns about your privacy. So now you’re given another option. The IRS site says you can "upload your government ID and a selfie" or "provide two identity documents and participate in a recorded chat with an agent."

"And the wait time that day when I got on was one hour and six minutes for the agent to come on!” Romig recalled. When she tried again the wait time was 40 minutes. If you don’t want to wait, the IRS has another suggestion.

"The letter it says if you don’t want to do it, no problem. Just make an appointment and go downtown to one of their offices,” said Romig, laughing.

Yep. So much for the ease of filing online. But the IRS says while inconvenient, the process protects your identity and your refund.

Remember, you don’t have to verify your identity to file your taxes. But if the IRS has reason to suspect identity theft, you have to do so before the IRS will process your return. You also have to verify your identity to create an IRS online account.

I had a number of questions for, and the company provided the answers below:

How are their pictures being used?

It’s first important to note is not a biometric company. is an identity verification company, and our capabilities extend well beyond facial recognition. We have thousands of customer support agents who verify people through video chat, as well as 700 locations for in-person verification.

During the automated self-serve process, an individual will take a selfie and we utilize 1:1 Face Match to simply match the individual’s face to the picture on their government ID card. If an individual cannot complete one of the steps, they are moved to a video chat verification agent for assistance. This verification process involves government ID cards and a Zoom-style meeting with an agent. Individuals are able to verify their identity anywhere that has an internet connection rather than having to visit a government agency in person uses a specific “1 to Many” check on selfies tied to government programs targeted by organized crime to prevent prolific identity thieves and members of organized crime from stealing the identities of innocent victims en masse. This step is internal to and does not involve any external or government database. It occurs once during enrollment and exists to make sure a single attacker is not registering multiple identities. It does not block legitimate users from verifying their identity, nor is it used for any other purpose other than to prevent identity theft. follows the federal government’s guidelines for identity verification, NIST 800-63-3 Identity Assurance Level 2. NIST 800-63A calls for “physical or biometric comparison of the photograph on the strongest piece of evidence to the applicant.” We are flexible to adapt to feedback from policymakers and NIST.

For more information, please go here.

What assurances can you give that they will be deleted?

On March 1, any user will be able to go to the website and delete their selfie. The deletion will take place within seven days. is certified against NIST 800-53 with a FedRAMP Authority to Operate from the General Services Administration. This certification speaks to the rigorous technical and policy controls adheres to in order to ensure data security.
Today, has expanded this privacy-enhancing approach to all consumers. This new model enables consumers to share, or not share, information as they see fit, versus the current world where marketers track people through cookies and buy their information without their consent.

Why are wait times for video chats so long?

We apologize to anyone experiencing longer wait times for video chat verification. Our team takes customer experience very seriously.
These wait times are not typical. Overall, 90% of individuals verify their identity using the automated self-service pathway. The remaining 10% go through the video chat verification process. Video chat verification enables individuals who don’t have a credit history, who live overseas, who are homeless, and/or who don’t have a phone number tied to their identity to get verified online. Users who have technical issues may enter this flow, too.

On January 26, we announced our plan to add more than 750 new customer support personnel, and overall, we expect to have more than 2000 customer support personnel, including video chat human agents, by the end of February 2022, a substantial increase.
We also announced a Human in the Loop team on February 24 to streamline equitable access. Learn more by going to

Why do you save the video after identifying the taxpayer?

If you verified for the IRS after March 11, all selfie and biometric data will be automatically deleted after 24 hours. Please find more information here.

The FTC reported identity theft tied to government benefits increased by 2,920% during the pandemic. So the State of New York has also contracted with to try to clamp down on fraud.

More answers are in the document below (mobile users, click here): Email Answering Questions by News10NBC on Scribd