Criminals used stolen data to gain access to past tax returns of more than 100,000 people through an application on the Internal Revenue Service website, the New York Times reports. Using Social Security numbers, birth dates, street addresses and other personal information obtained elsewhere, the criminals completed an authentication process and requested tax returns and other filings. Information from those forms was used to file fraudulent returns and the agency sent nearly $50 million in refunds before it detected the scheme.
“We're confident that these are not amateurs,” said IRS commissioner John Koskinen. “These actually are organized crime syndicates that not only we but everybody in the financial industry are dealing with.” The agency has temporarily shut down the Get Transcript application, which was used to gain access to the information. Old tax returns may be needed to apply for college loans or mortgages, and taxpayers can request the records by mail. More than 200,000 attempts to view past returns using stolen information were made from February to mid-May, and about half were successful. Dealing with fraudulent tax claims has been a challenge as online crime has grown more sophisticated. The IRS paid $5.8 billion in falsely claimed refunds in 2013.