Cyber Thieves Hit the IRS—and 100,000 Taxpayers

Cyber Thieves Hit the IRS—and 100,000 Taxpayers

REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files
By Brianna Ehley, The Fiscal Times

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.

Related: Tax Thieves Could Boost Their Income by 262 Percent

The IRS’s statement said the tax thieves were able to penetrate the system because they had knowledge of 100,000 taxpayers, including dates of birth, Social Security numbers and tax filing details.

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.

Related: IRS Struggles to Help Victims of Identity Fraud

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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Vox’s Ezra Klein says that retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan’s legacy can be summed up in one number: $343 billion. “That’s the increase between the deficit for fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2018— that is, the difference between the fiscal year before Ryan became speaker of the House and the fiscal year in which he retired.”

Klein writes that Ryan’s choices while in office — especially the 2017 tax cuts and the $1.3 trillion spending bill he helped pass and the expansion of the earned income tax credit he talked up but never acted on — should be what define his legacy:

“[N]ow, as Ryan prepares to leave Congress, it is clear that his critics were correct and a credulous Washington press corps — including me — that took him at his word was wrong. In the trillions of long-term debt he racked up as speaker, in the anti-poverty proposals he promised but never passed, and in the many lies he told to sell unpopular policies, Ryan proved as much a practitioner of post-truth politics as Donald Trump. …

“Ultimately, Ryan put himself forward as a test of a simple, but important, proposition: Is fiscal responsibility something Republicans believe in or something they simply weaponize against Democrats to win back power so they can pass tax cuts and defense spending? Over the past three years, he provided a clear answer. That is his legacy, and it will haunt his successors.”

Read Klein’s full piece here.

Number of the Day: $300 Million

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A Hanjin Shipping Co ship is seen stranded outside the Port of Long Beach, California, September 8, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo
© Lucy Nicholson / Reuters
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Bank Profits Hit New Record Thanks to 2017 Tax Law

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times
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Bank profits reached a record $62 billion in the third quarter, up $14 billion, or 29.3 percent, from the same period last year, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The FDIC said that about half of the increase in net income was attributable to last year’s tax cuts. The FDIC estimated that, with the effective tax rates from before the new law, bank profits for the quarter would have risen by about 14 percent, to $54.6 billion.