IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified in front of the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday to explain how the highly sensitive information of at least 200,000 Americans, including social security numbers, income information and addresses, was stolen through IRS tax filing systems. Earlier this year, the IRS sent $39 million worth of tax refunds to people they aren't owed to. More background on the situation:
Sophisticated criminals used an online service run by the IRS to access personal tax information from more than 200,000 taxpayers, part of an elaborate scheme to steal identities and claim fraudulent tax refunds, the IRS said Tuesday.
The thieves accessed a system called "Get Transcript," where taxpayers can get tax returns and other filings from previous years. In order to access the information, the thieves cleared a security screen that required knowledge about the taxpayer, including Social Security number, date of birth, tax filing status and street address, the IRS said.
During testimony, Koskinen said the IRS is working to help taxpayers who may have had their identities stolen in this incident, but admitted the IRS can't really do much to protect against this type of breach in the future.
"For now, our biggest concern is for the affected taxpayers, to make sure they are protected against fraud in the future. We recognize the severity of the situation for these taxpayers, and we are doing everything we can to help them," Koskinen said, adding later that the agency can hardly keep up with sophisticated hackers, not to mention get ahead of them.
Inspector General Russell George also testified and said that although the IRS has implemented a number of suggestions from his office to prevent stolen information, many recommendations have been ignored.
"Commissioner Koskinen, put simply, your agency has failed these taxpayers," Chairman Orrin Hatch said. "We must pledge to work together to make sure that this type of breach does not happen again. The secure movement of information is the lifeblood of international commerce and a necessary predicate for efficient government administration."
Meanwhile, despite the IRS' lack of guarantee taxpayer information won't be stolen in the future, Americans are still forced to submit personal information to the agency or face fines and in some cases, prison time.