Identity thieves hacked into an Internal Revenue Service data system earlier this year, potentially gaining access to personal financial information for at least 100,000 taxpayers.
The IRS issued a statement today saying that its online system, “Get Transcript,” was breached between February and May, the Associated Press first reported. The portal possesses information including tax returns and other taxpayer data stored by the IRS.
The massive hack comes as identity theft is at a record high. Earlier this year, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reported that 1.6 million taxpayers were affected by identity theft in 2014 – compared to just 271,000 in 2010.
The IRS’s ability to catch fraudsters was even added to the GAO’s “High Risk List” or the list of federal programs that are most-vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse.
Auditors attribute the increase to the uptick in electronic filing, which is more convenient for tax filers, but also easier for fraudsters to file fake returns.
TIGTA says the IRS doled out more than $5.8 billion in fraudulent refunds related to identity theft during the 2013 filing season.
The shift to electronic filing is also apparently making taxpayer information even more vulnerable according to the latest breach.
The hack is obviously bad news for the agency, which is already struggling to address cases of identity theft as they stack up. TIGTA reported the IRS took about 278 days on average to resolve identity theft cases in 2013, despite the agency claiming that it takes about 180 days or six months to resolve issues of identity theft.
When it does complete cases, the IG found that about 10 percent of the “resolved” were riddled with errors.
The latest report comes at a tough time for the IRS, which is struggling with a recent round of budget cuts and is operating with an even greater workload while enforcing at least 40 new tax provisions under the president’s health care law.
The agency said it has temporarily suspended the online service that was the subject of the breach until the vulnerabilities are resolved.
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Ben Ritz of the Progressive Policy Institute slams President Trump’s new budget:
“It would dismantle public investments that lay the foundation for economic growth, resulting in less innovation. It would shred the social safety net, resulting in more poverty. It would rip away access to affordable health care, resulting in more disease. It would cut taxes for the rich, resulting in more income inequality. It would bloat the defense budget, resulting in more wasteful spending. And all this would add up to a higher national debt than the policies in President Obama’s final budget proposal.”
Here’s Ritz’s breakdown of Trump’s proposed spending cuts to public investment in areas such as infrastructure, education and scientific research:
Since roughly the end of World War Two, individual income taxes in the U.S. have equaled about 8 percent of GDP. By contrast, the Tax Policy Center says, “corporate income tax revenues declined from 6% of GDP in 1950s to under 2% in the 1980s through the Great Recession, and have averaged 1.4% of GDP since then.”
Smaller refunds in the first few weeks of the current tax season were shaping up to be a political problem for Republicans, but new data from the IRS shows that the value of refund checks has snapped back and is now running 1.3 percent higher than last year. The average refund through February 23 last year was $3,103, while the average refund through February 22 of 2019 was $3,143 – a difference of $40. The chart below from J.P. Morgan shows how refunds performed over the last 3 years.