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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In fiscal year 2017, the IRS received $6.7 million from taxpayers whose debts were assigned to private collection agencies, but the agencies were paid $20 million – “three times the amount collected,” the report helpfully points out.
Goldman Sachs economists see the tax bill adding 0.3 percentage points to GDP growth in 2018 and 2019 while JP Morgan forecasts a similar gain of 0.3 percentage points next year and 0.2 percentage points the year after.
Goldman’s analysts add that federal spending, which is likely to grow more quickly next year than it has recently, will bring the total fiscal boost to around 0.6 percentage points for 2018 and 0.4 percentage points in 2019.
Both banks see deficits likely rising above $1 trillion, or about 5 percent of GDP, in 2019.