IRS Form W-9, Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification, is one of the most common tax forms.
Persons and business entities use them to request a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) from another person or entity. The requesting entity is known as the payer, and the entity who must fill out this document is the payee.
While the W-9 is a widely used tax form, you may wonder if they are public records or whether the information they contain is public. Understand the basics of W-9 privacy and whether it is safe to share its contents.
W-9 Privacy 101: The Basics
Although Form W-9 is a common tax document frequently utilized in various business transactions, it is crucial to understand the information it holds and which potential privacy concerns may occur by sharing it.
What Information a W-9 Form Holds
A filled-out W-9 contains multiple types of personally identifiable information (PII), a form of sensitive personal data. The sensitive information includes the following:
- The payee’s full name
- The requester’s name and address, if provided on the right of Lines 5 and 6
- The payee’s business or disregarded entity name
- The payee’s full address, city, state, and ZIP code
- The payee’s correct Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TINs), such as the Social Security Number (SSN) or the Employer Identification Number (EIN)
- Sensitive account numbers, if provided on Line 7 of the form. Examples include bank account numbers, vendor numbers, and brokerage account numbers.
Privacy Concerns with W-9s
It is crucial to handle the information within a Form W-9 with care and confidentiality to avoid potential privacy breaches.
Allowing an unauthorized individual to access the data on a W-9 can result in serious consequences for the payee, such as financial loss, identity theft, and violations of data privacy laws.
Are W-9 Forms Public Record?
W-9 Forms are not public record, and the information a W-9 contains is confidential. It is the responsibility of a W-9 recipient not to misuse the PII and other details found in the W-9 they receive from a payer.
Requesting entities must only use the information for its intended purposes, such as tax reporting or record-keeping for potential audits.
Here are the answers to some common questions if W-9s are public information.
Someone with legitimate access to your Form W-9 should handle it responsibly and use the information for strictly lawful purposes, such as tax reporting. However, an unauthorized person with access to your W-9 can expose you to financial fraud, identity theft, and scams. They may also file fraudulent tax returns with your name and details, potentially causing severe complications when you file taxes legitimately.
You should only share your Form W-9 should with trusted parties. Only entities with a legitimate reason to access your W-9 should have access to it, and even in such cases, you should only use secure channels to send it, such as encrypted e-mail or hand-delivery. Sharing your W-9 over unsecured channels, even to a legitimate party, carries the risk its contents may be intercepted and used to commit fraud or identity theft.
Employers typically need to see your W-9 if you are an independent contractor, a freelancer, or a non-employee providing them with products and services. If you are a regular employee instead, you will typically not need to fill out a Form W-9. You may need to complete other tax forms, such as IRS Form W-4.
If an individual or entity shares the details on your W-9 without your permission, it is a breach of confidentiality and a potential violation of applicable privacy and data protection laws. Unauthorized disclosure of your W-9 can damage your reputation, increase the risk of identity theft against you, and expose you to other legal, financial, and regulatory consequences.
You should only consider refusing to fill out a Form W-9 if you suspect the requesting entity doesn’t have a legitimate reason to have it. For example, if you are a full-time employee, you generally do not need to fill out a W-9. You can also refuse to issue one if you suspect the requester if a scammer, a fraudster, or an illegitimate entity.
However, failing to provide your W-9 when the requester has a lawful reason to have it exposes you to IRS penalties for failure to return information. You can find a list of penalties for the current tax year on the IRS website.