More and more, it looks like the IRS "Get Transcript" online service played a part in a "Get Cash" now strategy for ID crooks. Beginning Monday, another 685,000 tax filers nationwide will get the word of potential problems with ID theft.
"Get Transcript" is designed to be an easy online system for tax filers to obtain tax returns from previous years. Information from those records can be helpful in the process of completing current returns. Taxpayers can use transcripts for verifying income when applying for a mortgage or a student loan, too.
But the crooks can use this data on "Get Transcript" to craft even more realistic fake tax returns to cook up generous tax refunds for themselves. Tax refund fraud is a major concern in the tax industry and tops the IRS list of its "Dirty Dozen" tax season scams.
New mailings from the IRS to tax filers who are caught in this latest ID theft hacking mess will begin Feb. 29.
We first heard reports on this issue last May. But on Friday, the Internal Revenue Service stated that a further review found that 390,000 additional taxpayer accounts from January 2014 through May 2015 were potentially accessed by ID thieves. On top of that, another 295,000 taxpayer transcripts were targeted but the con artists didn't get the transcripts or tax records.
The numbers just keep getting bigger. Last May, the IRS said it was sending letters to more than 200,000 taxpayers to notify them that hackers made attempts to access certain IRS accounts with the "Get Transcript" program. To do that, the hackers reportedly already had their hands on some Social Security numbers and other data that was obtained earlier from a non-IRS source and then the crooks tried to use that information to get more key data via "Get Transcript."
In May 2015, the IRS said hackers gained access to about 114,000 taxpayer accounts and another 111,000 had transcripts that were targeted but not accessed.
In August 2015, the IRS announced it had identified another 220,000 accounts that were accessed via "Get Transcript" and another 170,000 failed attempts.
Add up the numbers, which the IRS did not in its news release, and we're looking at 1.3 million tax filers on edge here for potential ID theft. In that group, it looks like 724,000 tax filers saw their "Get Transcript" accounts accessed by fraudsters at some point from January 2014 through May 2015.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration or TIGTA, spent nine months investigating the "Get Transcript" fiasco and went back to January 2014 to look for additional suspicious activity. The criminals already had some sensitive ID information obtained elsewhere, the IRS said, before attempts were made on the "Get Transcript" accounts.
The IRS is notifying consumers who were hit or had attempts made on their "Get Transcript" accounts. Tax filers who were victims in this hacking case will receive free identity protection services and special PINs to file their tax returns.
The "Get Transcript" application has been offline since May 2015 and continues to be offline.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement that the IRS will move quickly to help these taxpayers who were identified as part of the work done by TIGTA.
The IRS is notifying by mail those taxpayers whose transcripts were accessed, as well as those involved with failed attempts to access accounts.
Criminals may have some information on the taxpayers and taxpayers would be wise to obtain a free annual credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com to spot any other activity.
Taxpayers whose transcripts were accessed can request an Identity Protect PIN by completing Form 14039, the Identity Theft Affidavit.
An IP PIN provides an additional layer of protection for the taxpayer's Social Security Number on the federal tax return.
State governments also will receive some information about the incident to prevent some refund fraud on the state level.