The IRS met with a group of state tax supervisors and tax industry front-runners Tuesday to develop additional steps they are taking for next tax season to strengthen safeguards against identity theft and tax refund fraud.
The public-private sector conglomerate announced success in isolating and examining more than 20 new data elements on tax return filings that will be shared with the IRS and the states to help detect and prevent identity-theft related filings. In addition, the software industry is putting in place enhanced identity requirements and validation procedures for their customers to protect accounts from identity thieves.
“We’re here to give you an update on the protections we are putting in place for the upcoming filing season to better safeguard taxpayers and the tax system against stolen identity refund fraud,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen during a press conference. “As I said before, this is not a battle the IRS can fight alone. Joining me today are representatives of the electronic tax industry, the software industry and the states. These members of our Security Summit group have collaborated with the IRS since day one. We began mapping out a strategy in March and together we have made significant progress in just a few months.”
He noted that the collaborative group has added more members. “We now have 20 major players in the tax and financial industry working with us on this effort,” said Koskinen. “This is significant because the Security Summit now covers virtually the entire population of taxpayers who e-file their tax returns.”
Koskinen pointed out that 34 states have now signed the memorandum of understanding, with even more planning to sign on in the weeks ahead. “It’s significant because 32 of the 42 states that have an income tax have already signed on,” he said. “It’s critical for us to continue making progress on this area because refund fraud related to identity theft has become a more complicated and serious threat to the nation’s tax system.”
When the Security Summit met last June, he noted, one of the biggest concerns involved what could be done to validate taxpayer identities and tax information when returns are filed. “Working together, the states, industry and the IRS came up with more than 20 data components that we can collect and share with each other when a return is filed,” said Koskinen. “This data, which is largely invisible to the taxpayer when their return is filed, will shine new light on potentially fraudulent returns.”
Along with the data sharing, the IRS will also continue to use its recently introduced Return Review Program to prevent fraud. “This is a relatively new and sophisticated fraud detection system designed by the IRS specifically to protect taxpayers,” said Koskinen. “I’m not interested in giving criminals a roadmap to our system, so I won’t go into a lot of details this morning on which data components we’re looking at, but let me give you just a few basic examples. If tax returns come from the same foreign Internet address, we’ll see that. If many tax returns are filed from the same device, we’ll see that as well. We can also see how long it takes to prepare a return online from the time a person logs in to when the return is filed electronically, so if a tax return appears to be automatically generated by machine, we’ll find that out as well. All of these give us a better defense against criminals trying to use stolen taxpayer information to file tax returns that are false and claim refunds, and we can do a better job of stopping the refund before it goes out the door.”
Koskinen pointed out that private industry is cooperating in the effort to better protect taxpayers and the integrity of the tax system. “Our partners in private industry are also taking additional steps to protect customers who use tax software to fill out and file their returns,” he said. “Many of the improvements should look familiar because they’re currently used across the financial sector when you log into your accounts, things like additional security questions and device recognitions. The Security Summit has made remarkable progress so far, but more work remains. We’re looking beyond the upcoming filing season to see where we can make changes to protect the tax system over the long term.”