IRS document cannot be scanned

I got some printed documents from the IRS and tried to scan one. The scan file only says “Sensitive taxpayer information” and that’s all it has.

However I can make copies of the documents using the same printer/scanner/copier.

They are using some kind of technology to make these documents not work with a scanner?

Beginning with US currency, embedded sensing/protection of documents has crept further and further into duplication technology. The makers of scanners, scanware, copiers and the like have willingly cooperated with the IRS, Secret Service, and probably other agencies to embed “fingerprint” detection and block copying of documents.

Money, I can almost understand and agree with, although you’d think that threat of heavy federal rap for turning out a few twenties on your home system is prevention enough.

But no, the intrusion continues. As does things like copiers and printers that leave a “fingerprint” of their own, usually in a unique pattern of single-pixel yellow dots, on every page they print.

Feel safer?

You can take a photo of the document and turn it into a TIFF file (and possibly a PDF too), if it helps.

Making any kind of lower-resolution form will probably defeat the portion of the lock that’s dependent on fine details. Covering up bar codes and the like might also help; the “lock” might be that crude.

You can try scanning 1/2 at a time, or other segments, either covering it up or placing it partway on the scanner. There may be multiple triggers however. Maybe placing it on a tinted film could help also.

I’m reminded of when some documents used blue because it didn’t show up on xerographic copies.


tried scanning upside down but that did not work.

What worked was removing the header and footer, I guess the scanner looks for those to deny the scan. You have to remove both of them, just removing 1 will still not scan.

Is there some legal reason it is not supposed to be scanned?

I suspect it’s a blanket, mama-knows-best, very half-assed way to keep people from copying “sensitive taxpayer information.”

I guess they assume that a scanned copy is very easy to be sent anywhere and of course it has your SSN on it.

Try copying it on a modern scan-to-print copier, if you have the chance. I’d bet it’s rejected there, too.

I don’t know about legal reasons, but it seems to me that the most obvious reason would be protecting the taxpayer (from people having access to the documents and copying their presumably confidential for whatever nefarious purpose), rather than the other way around.

I read a while back that the secret service spends a lot of effort checking out copiers to see how well they can print money to make counterfeit bills. I assume that’s still the case.

Also the main counterfeiting place is supposed to be North Korea. And the reason they have not bothered to change the $1 bill is they figure nobody is going to counterfeit it.

That’s just weird. I deal in IRS documents all year long and have never encountered that error, nor have any of my clients.

What brand or model is this scanner?

HP Envy 5530 , nothing fancy. It’s wireless, about a year old. The documents were printed out at the local IRS office. It’s my tax return from a few years back.

Moderator Note

This being GQ, let’s keep this about technology rather than your personal opinions about policy.

General Questions Moderator

Form 1096, used to report contractor expense payments by a business submitted on a 1099, is the only form that I’m aware of that is forbidden by the IRS to be a “photocopy” as they call it. I have no idea why, and I’ve never tried… They send me as many as I request for free.

Since you got the documents from a local IRS office, it’s possible the restriction is due to the controlling of wireless transmissions in IRS facilities.

Haven’t read this throughly, but it may be relevant: Sensitive Data Remain at Risk From the Use of Unauthorized Wireless Technology.

If you file it on paper, the red-lined original forms that they give you are necessary to make sure the documents can be read by a computer. It’s a very old computer, apparently; the SSA has been allowing plain/B+W paper W-2s for years and even the IRS allows that for most other tax forms.

I have seen a cheque be refused to scan into a PDF by a Kyocera 4550 multifunction behemoth. Copying it black & white was fine, but we scan things to PDF for the express purpose of reducing paper consumption. I couldn’t spot any obvious barcode so I assume there was some minuscule dot pattern embedded in the background that told the machine “no”.

When it was copied, the background print also created grey “VOID” markers across the cheque. Then we scanned that to PDF.