As the deadline by the Internal Revenue Service for 2017 tax filing season approaches, lawmakers are ringing alarm bells over the susceptibility of confidential taxpayer data.
Cyber criminals have become active in hacking and phishing email schemes to obtain sensitive information from taxpayers, which can be used to commit identity theft or tax fraud. Lawmakers from both parties have started putting more pressure on the IRS to take steps to protect taxpayers and their data, as the issue gains traction on Capitol Hill.
“Criminals are becoming even more sophisticated and ruthless in ways they commit tax identity theft and file fraudulent returns with ill-gotten personal information,” Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), chair of the House Small Business Committee, said at a hearing on Thursday. “At a minimum, the goal of the IRS must be to make this crime harder, not easier, for identity thieves to commit.”
“It has become clear that the IRS, like all agencies trusted with the American people’s most sensitive personal information, needs to step up its game,” he said.
In 2015, the IRS itself was the victim of a successful breach, which leaked personal data of over 700,000 taxpayer accounts. IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, told lawmakers last year, that there are over a million malicious attempts to hack the agency’s computer systems every day.
Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent letters to Koskinen, asking him to step up the efforts against cyber-attacks. He specifically asked the IRS to make use of an email authentication tool that would help block phishing emails that target taxpayers.
The IRS saw an over 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents last year, during tax season. Emails imitating the IRS and other tax industry organizations were sent to taxpayers to try and trick them into sending sensitive information.
Wyden also criticized President Trump’s budget proposal released in March, which would cut $239 million from the IRS.
“This continued budgetary onslaught can only result in the agency increasingly being unable to provide basic customer service to taxpayers, much less safeguard taxpayer data from cyber criminals who would wreak havoc with their financial livelihoods,” Wyden wrote.
A US Treasury watchdog testifying before the Small Business Committee, on Thursday, complained that budget restrictions have curtailed the agency’s ability to safeguard taxpayer information.