Many U.S. citizens are bound to experience delays in getting their tax returns processed this year, thanks largely to more stringent controls enacted by Uncle Sam and the states to block fraudulent tax refund requests filed by identity thieves. A steady drip of corporate data breaches involving phished employee W-2 information is adding to the backlog, as is an apparent mass adoption by ID thieves of professional tax services for processing large numbers of phony refund requests.
With little more than a month to go before the start of the 2016 tax filing season, the IRS and the states are hunkering down for an expected slugfest with identity thieves who make a living requesting fraudulent tax refunds on behalf of victims. Here’s what you need to know going into January to protect you and your family.
Authorities across the United States this week arrested dozens of gang members who stand accused of making millions of dollars stealing consumer identities in order to file fraudulent tax refund requests with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The arrests highlight the dramatic shift in gang activity in recent years from high-risk drug dealing to identity fraud — a far less risky yet equally lucrative crime.
With the 2014 tax filing season squarely in the rearview mirror, state tax authorities are struggling to incorporate new approaches to identifying and stopping fraudulent tax refund requests, a $6 billion-a-year problem that’s hit many states particularly hard this year. But some states say they are encountering resistance to those efforts on nearly every front, from Uncle Sam to online tax vendors and from the myriad of financial firms that profit handsomely from processing phony tax refunds.
When identity thieves filed a phony $7,7700 tax refund request in the name of Joe Garrett, Alabama’s deputy tax commissioner, they didn’t get all of the money they requested. A portion of the cash went to more than a half dozen U.S. companies that each grab a slice of the fraudulent refund, including banks, payment processing firms, tax preparation companies and e-commerce giants.
In March 2015, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that identity thieves engaged in filing fraudulent tax refund requests with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) were using the IRS’s own Web site to pull taxpayer data needed to complete the phony requests. Today, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen acknowledged that crooks used this feature to pull sensitive data on more than 100,000 taxpayers this year.
Some of the most frank and useful information about how to fight fraud comes directly from the mouths of the crooks themselves. Online cybercrime forums play a critical role here, allowing thieves to compare notes about how to evade new security roadblocks and steer clear of fraud tripwires. Few topics so reliably generate discussion on crime forums around this time of year as tax return fraud, as we’ll see in the conversations highlighted in this post.
Intuit, the makers of TurboTax, recently introduced several changes to beef up the security of customer accounts following a spike in tax refund fraud at the state and federal level. Unfortunately, those changes don’t go far enough. Here’s a look at some of the missteps that precipitated this mess, and what the company can do differently going forward.
Two former security employees at Intuit — the makers of the popular tax preparation software and service TurboTax — allege that the company has made millions of dollars knowingly processing state and federal tax refunds filed by cybercriminals. Intuit says it leads the industry in voluntarily reporting suspicious returns, and that ultimately it is up to the Internal Revenue Service to develop industry-wide requirements for tax preparation firms to follow in their collective fight against the multi-billion dollar problem of tax refund fraud.
Scam artists stole billions of dollars last year from the U.S. Treasury by filing phony federal tax refund requests on millions of Americans. But as Uncle Sam has made this type of fraud harder for thieves to profit from, the crooks have massively shifted their focus to conducting refund fraud at the state level. Or at least according to Intuit Inc., the makers of TurboTax: The company says it believes that shift is responsible for a whopping 3700 percent increase in fraudulent state tax refund filings this year in some states.