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More than 100,000 taxpayers have had their personal tax information stolen from an IRS website as part of an elaborate scheme to claim fraudulent tax refunds.
The information was stolen from an online system called "Get Transcript," where taxpayers are able to get tax returns and other tax filings from previous years. The IRS said the thieves targeted the system from February to mid-May. Taxpayers sometimes need copies of old tax returns to apply for mortgages or college aid, etc. The service has been temporarily shut down. While the system is shut down, taxpayers can apply for transcripts by mail. The IRS said it is notifying taxpayers whose information has been accessed and will be providing them with credit monitoring services. They have launched a criminal investigation and the agency's inspector general is also investigating.
Identity thieves, both foreign and domestic, have stepped up their efforts in recent years to claim fraudulent tax refunds. Until recently, tax refund fraud has been surprisingly simple, once thieves obtain a taxpayer's Social Security number and date of birth. Typically, thieves would file fake tax returns with made-up information early in the filing season, before the legitimate taxpayers filed their returns — and before employers and financial institutions filed wage and tax documents with the IRS. The refunds would often be sent electronically to prepaid debit cards or bank accounts. Officials have been working to minimize the damage that the fraud has caused.
IRS officials say new computer filters are helping to stop many crude attempts at identity theft and that its main computer system, which handles tax filing submissions, remains secure.