Identity thieves used the IRS’ own systems to steal personal information from about 100,000 taxpayers, the agency said on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.
Criminals already armed with some data on the taxpayers used the IRS “Get Transcript” website to obtain even more data on their victims, the IRS said.
Get Transcript gives taxpayers the ability to obtain tax returns from previous years. Visitors to the Get Transcript page at the IRS on Tuesday afternoon were greeted by the message: “Alert: The online Get Transcript service is currently unavailable. Transcripts may still be ordered using the Get Transcript by Mail service. We apologize for any inconvenience.”
The IRS said criminals had accessed the site from February through mid-May, and that it was shut down in reaction to the attack. Criminals armed with taxpayers’ Social Security numbers and other information were able to pass security tests and access the system.
“The IRS notes this issue does not involve its main computer system that handles tax filing submission; that system remains secure,” the agency said in a statement, according to AP. “In all, about 200,000 attempts were made from questionable email domains, with more than 100,000 of those attempts successfully clearing authentication hurdles.”
The Reuters news service reported that IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said the criminals were part of an organized, professional gang.
“We’re confident these are not amateurs, these are actually organized crime syndicates that not only we but everyone in the financial industry are dealing with,” he said at a news conference.
According to the Get Transcript website, extensive details about a consumer would have been available to the criminals. For example:
Tax Return Transcript – shows most line items from your tax return (Form 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ) as it was originally filed, including any accompanying forms and schedules.
Tax Account Transcript – shows basic data including return type, marital status, adjusted gross income, taxable income, credits and payments. It also shows adjustments made by you or the IRS after you filed the return.
Wage and Income Transcript – shows data from information returns reported to the IRS, such as W-2s, 1099s and 1098s.
In order to clear the security hurdles, criminals would have had to pass this test: “To use Get Transcript Online, you must have a Social Security number (SSN) and immediate access to your email account to confirm your email address. Then you’ll need to answer personal, financial and tax related questions to verify your identity.”
It’s important to note that criminals who accessed the Get Transcript must have already had a lot of personal information about the victims.
The IRS is notifying taxpayers impacted by the attack.