CNN has reported that the major cyber breach of IRS records that happened recently originated in Russia. According to the CNN news report over 100,000 people had their tax returns stolen, but just how big of a breach actually occurred hasn’t been determined yet as the IRS’ Criminal Investigation Unit and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration are still conducting their investigation.
On Thursday, May 28 the FBI also opened their own investigation, and the Homeland Security Department was alerted. None of these agencies are discussing their ongoing investigations with the publci. Essentially, what is known is that the Russians have infiltrated the computer systems in both the White House and the State Department. This isn’t the first time that taxpayer data has been released. Taxpayer’s data security has actually been a problem for many years now (since 1997 according to the testimony about IRS Systems Security given before the Committee on Governmental Affairs at the U.S. Senate on Thursday, April 10, 1997). In fact, the IRS even goes so far as to call this their “number one problem.” With this breach, lawmakers on Capitol Hill began demanding answers.
As Rep. Peter Roskam said, “It’s a problem, no matter where it’s coming from.” However, the IRS isn’t alone when it comes to security breaches. Recently, millions of customers at Target, as well as Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield have also had their data compromised. Even Turbo Tax temporarily halted their service because of fraud. So, in today’s day and age, it is more important than ever to keep an eye on our private information. There are even some people who claim that things will get worse before getting better.
Regardless of whether the IRS contacted you or not, it is a good idea to sign up for a credit monitoring service. If you are one of the more than 100,000 households that were affected, the IRS will offer you these services for free. This is a significant step to engage in because this stolen information is oftentimes used to open credit card accounts on which the criminals rack up a lot of fraudulent charges. It is important to understand that even this doesn’t give you a full protection but it does provide for some against criminals who are trying to open new lines of credit in your name.
Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) is a category that falls under identity theft. It involves the theft of the “tax” identity of the victim. As the tax filing season descends upon us we need to be aware of the very real threats of having an identity stolen.
Victims of stolen identity refund fraud have had their lives ruined. The criminal steals the “tax” identity of an individual for the purpose of filing a tax return. The criminal will obtain information about the victim and use it to obtain his or her social security number. The thief will then submit a false tax return in the name of the victim claiming a tax return. Forbes report claims that “unfortunately, in many instances the refunds are issued.”
The victims are left to discover the fraud when they go to file their tax returns. The IRS refuses to send out a refund because a return was already filed under the name of the individual. The burden of proof rests on the individual to prove that their identity was actually stolen and that they did not file a return in the first place. It can be a very lengthy process for an individual to get straightened out with the IRS and it can be an even lengthier amount of time for any resolution to happen.
Sadly, stolen identity refund fraud victims are the elderly and individuals who are not required to file tax returns. Criminals who steal this information often get away with it for a long time before being caught. Often the victim finds out when they apply for state or federal benefits and cannot receive them due to information found on the fraudulent returns.
The IRS and the Justice Department have begun cracking down on identity theft and have been active in fighting identity fraud. The IRS makes it clear that the agency is devoted to preventing identity fraud. The website has information on how to report suspected identity theft and the precautionary measures that people can so they don’t become a victim.
Protecting personal information is important. It is extremely important in the online world. Identity theft is a real problem. Thieves who steal information often gather it easily from unsuspecting victims who willingly give out personal information to the wrong person or those who give out the information unwillingly but didn’t have their information protected.
Identity theft might become an even bigger problem with the announcements that were made at the White House’s “Datapalooza” event. “Datapalooza” is an ambitious new agenda that has been outlined by President Obama to combat rising college costs and to make college more affordable for American families. It was a meeting of policy leaders and innovators exploring how open government data could help the education system in the United States. Part of the plan includes using technology for tools, services, and apps to help students evaluate and select colleges.
Apps will be used to help students access information about colleges including statistical data, program data, and form data (i.e. FAFSA). Third party apps are also being considered for integration into the U.S. Department of Education’s financial aid toolkits. These applications should be viewed skeptically by students. If the apps do not have the proper protections and encryptions against hack attacks then hackers might have “datapalooza” with student’s personal information. Identity theft is a real concern with the potential data that would need to be stored online to use the governments’ apps.
The White House announced at “Datapalooza” that Americans will now be able to download their tax returns directly from the IRS’ new service Get Transcript. Tax information is not easily accessible and for good reason. Tax papers have very personal information on them including names, birthdates, social security numbers, and wage information. To obtain tax information before one would have to fill out a questionnaire, send it back and wait 5-10 business days for physical forms to arrive. Get Transcript makes it much easier for people to download their tax information instead of waiting to get the physical forms. But it also means that much more personal information is at risk of being stolen.
With tax season here, it’s easy to feel a little nervous and stressed. While nobody likes to pay taxes, even more, nobody likes to be scammed. With the April 15 filing deadline for taxes almost here, last minute filers are at risk for being scammed.
The Center for Internet Security (CIS) offers tips to keep yourself from being caught in one of the many tax scams out there. With identity theft and phishing scams still ranking among the top security concerns, email scams are still at the top for ways scammers can take advantage of you.
Pay attention to emails that offer subject lines about taxes, filing taxes, tax laws, financial loss, damage to reputation. One popular phishing scam includes a subject line about changes in tax laws and invites the recipient to download a document to explain the changes. Once downloaded, the malware in these documents can damage your computer and steal your personal information.
The IRS releases a list of “Dirty Dozen Tax Scams” each year and includes tips about how to protect yourself from online and phone scams. One popular scam is criminals who call unsuspecting citizens, impersonating charities and asking for donations.
It’s tax season! Filing your tax return is a less than thrilling activity, and you may be tempted to procrastinate. However, filing early can help reduce the chance that you’ll become a victim of tax-related identity theft.
In recent years, an emphasis on filing tax returns electronically and receiving tax returns via direct deposit has led to an increase in incidences of tax-related identity theft. Many of these cases involve thieves stealing social security numbers and using them to file fraudulent tax returns early on in the season. The thief will set up a bank account to have the money deposited in, and then close the account after receiving the victim’s tax refund. Then, when the victim files his or her real return, he or she will be notified that the IRS has received 2 filings under the same social security number.
Every year millions of U.S. citizens trust the IRS with all of their sensitive financial information when they file their tax returns. Unfortunately there are those out there who are looking to capitalize on the tax refund process by tricking unsuspecting citizens into releasing their private data.
Tax return fraud on the rise
The commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service told Congress that that the IRS has experienced a “significant increase in problems tied to the theft of taxpayer identities.”
In 2008, there were 51,702 incidents of fraud. In 2009 the IRS reported 169,087 cases of fraud, and in 2010, that number jumped to 245,000 cases. This is obviously becoming a major headache for the IRS. In fact the amount of cases has increased five fold in the last 5 years.
Commissioner Douglas Shulman also told the government accountability office that it is incredibly difficult to screen every return for fraud because it would cause massive delays, but Shulman has also said that the IRS obviously needs to do better.
If you do not agree with a tax return examination or with other adjustments to your income tax liability, the IRS provides an appeals system. Find out more about the appeals process, important tips and your rights.
Did you know that some IRS collection practices are categorized as ‘unauthorized,’ that is, prohibited? This means you do have certain rights and options for repayment when it comes to the IRS attempting to collect your federal taxes from you.
While you may be waiting not so patiently for your income tax return this year and you may have even filed online, thieves know this and are eager to take advantage of an opportunity to scam unsuspecting taxpayers. Don’t be surprised if sophisticated phishing scams show up in your email inbox in the guise of an official communication from the IRS.
Lora and Jamey Costner of Newport, Tennessee, have joined the ranks of identity theft victims after two illegal immigrants, Douglas Valdez and Elizabeth Velasco Bautista, allegedly used the Costner’s Social Security numbers to obtain employment at the Koch Foods plant in nearby Morristown.