We often write about the staggering frequency of tax fraud and tax-related identity theft that has shot up in recent years. This trend is, naturally, more pronounced during the tax filing season, when millions of Americans are so freely distributing sensitive personal information — Social Security Numbers, incomes, filing statuses, addresses, birth dates and plenty more — to get their tax refund that they don’t realize they’re making themselves significantly more vulnerable to identity thieves. While we normally expect this to die down at least a little bit after April 15 has come and gone, this year tax fraud got a shot in the arm when the IRS announced its Get Transcript web portal had been compromised in a data breach.
As we’ve mentioned before on our blog, this incident is an especially disconcerting one because the whole point of Get Transcript was to make life easier for taxpayers. The web portal enables users to review tax returns from previous years and is supposed to safeguard that information with security protocols. This summer, though, hackers managed to bypass those security checkpoints, get their hands on a cache of personal information and then use that data to file their own fraudulent tax returns. In essence, all Get Transcript did was make life easier for identity thieves!
As part of a follow-up investigation, the IRS disclosed earlier this month that approximately 330,000 households may have been compromised in the Get Transcript hack, and their personal information may be used to either claim fraudulent tax refunds or commit other acts of ID theft . Now a new story out of Utah puts a very public name and face to this wave of tax fraud victims: Congressman Jason Chaffetz.
Chaffetz, who not only represents Utah’s third congressional district in the House of Representatives but also sits on the House Oversight Committee as its chairman, recently revealed that he too was among the thousands of tax fraud victims this year. The congressman learned of the crime when he went to file his federal income tax for the year, only to realize that someone else had already filed it using his name and Social Security Number.
If there’s a silver lining to this story, it’s that Chaffetz actually owed money to the IRS this year — not typically a silver lining for most people, but in this case it prevented Chaffetz from becoming one of the thousands who, every year, have their hard-earned tax refund stolen out from under them. Although Chaffetz was able to legitimately file his taxes and send in the amount for what he owed “in the good, old-fashioned way” of an enveloped check, the incident made him an even harsher critic of the IRS’ handling of cyber security and identity theft protection.
“The IRS has shown a total ineptness in their ability to secure Social Security Numbers and root out this fraud,” Chaffetz told local news outlet KSL. “There has to be a better, smarter way to authenticate who somebody is. Social Security Numbers are floating out there everywhere.”
Unfortunately for the congressman and thousands of other Americans, there’s no overnight solution to tax-filing identity protection, even with the IRS taking bigger steps to achieving exactly that. Rather than wait for the government to eventually (if ever) get around to implementing the utmost in cyber security, though, take things into your own hands with a credit monitoring servicecredit monitoring services. While it may not be able to completely mitigate your chances for incurring identity theft, it can alert you to signs of certain activity on your credit files that may be evidence of fraud