Are you concerned about your personal information being used fraudulently this tax season? You have good reason to be as the IRS is falling down on the job of protecting the private data of Americans.
The IRS is failing to secure its massive computer systems leaving our private information wide open to hackers and fraudsters looking to exploit their system, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.
I’m not sure which lapse is most egregious: that the IRS does not always delete employee access when workers have quit or been fired (including for snooping into private records), that its passwords can easily be compromised, or that it is using software without proper security functions. Not only do former employees have access to our sensitive information, but current employees who aren’t authorized to see this data can log in and snoop around.
These vulnerabilities mean that hackers – and those who aren’t too sophisticated – can get into the IRS systems and meddle with the kind of information which they can then use to file false tax returns, apply for credit cards, secure loans, and more.
GAO says that while the IRS developed and documented a comprehensive agency-wide security program, it hasn’t effectively implemented elements of it. What good is bringing in a guard dog if you don’t train him, feed him, and help him to decipher between those he’s supposed to protect and intruders. In this case, the IRS guard dog is actually nudging open the gate and standing idly by.
The report evaluates IRS security and cites significant deficiencies in its financial reporting systems. It comes as worrisome news for millions of Americans who are legally required to file taxes but may be fearful about fraud.
The report says the IRS needs to continue improving controls over financial and taxpayer data. Its release caps a bad six weeks for the IRS and for taxpayers. The annual tax filing season arrived with a bang, punctuated by a big uptick in fears about fraud. There was nearly a bank run when TurboTax suspended filing state tax returns over fraud.
In fact, former IRS workers still access data systems long after they have no official business with the information and long after they should be cut off. One co-author of the report said the IRS has a treasure trove of taxpayer data that can be used by identity thieves. The timing couldn’t be worse for the IRS.
All in all, the GAO report paints a grim picture, suggesting that one need not be a terribly sophisticated hacker to get into the IRS. Even so, the GAO says there are some improvements. A previous GAO report said there were 69 security weaknesses at the IRS. Some of those have been addressed, which is good news.
Does anyone have any confidence in the tax collecting agency of the federal government anymore? From its handling of conservative applications for nonprofit status to its failure to cut off access for former employees, the IRS has given us every reason not to trust the most feared agency in government.
Moving beyond its sinister campaign to discriminate against conservative groups and allegations of harassment of conservative political donors, the IRS has seen headache after headache. The Treasury Inspector General found that 1.6 million taxpayers were affected by identity theft last year. This tax season vulnerabilities lead to fraudsters using TurboTax to submit false state and federal tax returns.
The IRS has been warning that new ObamaCare reporting requirements will also slow this season down.
Not surprisingly, the IRS is saying it needs more money to do its job. What if we made their job more manageable by eliminating ObamaCare and perhaps even adopting a simplified tax system? At the very least, why doesn’t the IRS take the recommendations from the GAO to safeguard the privacy of Americans?
The IRS has done little to demonstrate they deserve our trust.