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Commissioner Koskinen's Statement on the Security Summit Group Public Awareness Campaign

Nov. 19, 2015
Washington, D.C.

I want to thank everyone for coming. Today we’re announcing a new campaign to enlist the public’s help in the battle against identity theft. We’re urging everyone to take an active role in protecting their personal and financial information, both online and at home, to help amplify the new security protections we are putting in place.

I’m delighted to be joined here today by representatives from the states and the Federation of Tax Administrators, as well as the private-sector tax industry. Earlier this year the IRS, the states and the tax industry formed the Security Summit Group, which has been working for the last several months to come up with major new ways of protecting taxpayers and safeguarding the tax system.

This is a powerful partnership. We’ve made a great deal of progress for the upcoming tax season, and it shows just how much we can accomplish working together. But to keep making progress, there is another partner we need to bring on board, and that’s the taxpaying public. In fact, that’s why we’re announcing this new effort, called “Taxes-Security-Together.” We all have a part to play in fighting identity theft.

Let me explain why this is so important for our tax system. Refund fraud caused by identity theft has recently become a more serious and complicated threat. Increasingly, these crimes are being perpetrated by sophisticated, organized syndicates. They’ve been able to gather almost unimaginable amounts of personal data from sources outside the IRS. They use this data to file fraudulent federal and state tax income returns, and claim huge refunds.

The IRS and the states have been working to get better at detecting these false returns, but as the criminals steal more and more personal data, they can do an even better job of making a tax return look legitimate. That’s a big challenge, both for the IRS and state taxing authorities.

In short, the criminals are evolving, and so must we.

Last month, the Security Summit Group announced that the IRS, the states and the industry all will be putting in place new safeguards in time for next year’s tax filing season. But there is only so much our organizations can do. The fight against identity theft and refund fraud can be made easier if people take steps to keep their personal and financial data out of the hands of identity thieves. And that’s our message today: We need the public’s help.

Consider this number. There are 150 million households that file federal and state tax returns involving trillions of dollars. For each of those households, these returns involve some of your most important and sensitive personal data. More than 90 percent of these tax returns are prepared on a laptop, desktop or even a smartphone – whether they’re done by an individual or a tax preparer.

This is a massive amount of sensitive data that identity thieves would love to get access to. We want to make it harder for these criminals to succeed, and to do that, everyone needs to be actively safeguarding their personal data, whether on their personal devices or in their personal interactions.

Now, many of the steps we’re talking about are basic, common sense actions people can take to protect themselves. But these steps can’t be stressed often enough. With 150 million households, someone right now is clicking on an email link they shouldn't, or skipping an important computer security update, leaving them vulnerable to hackers.

This is why the timing of our campaign today is so important. The holiday season is approaching. Tax season is coming up. People are online, people are getting new devices. It's an incredibly busy period involving huge amounts of financial and tax data being shared. People need to be aware of steps they can take. As the holidays approach, people should be making sure their friends and family are aware as well. I think we all know someone who may be tech-challenged in some way.

So over the next few months, we will be getting out important information in a number of ways. Starting next week, we’ll be issuing weekly tax tips describing the actions people can take as tax season approaches. We have updated several publications for taxpayers and tax professionals. We will be posting YouTube videos. And information will also be shared online across IRS.gov, state websites and platforms used by the tax software industry and many others in the private-sector tax community.

I also want the public to know the IRS continues to work with state and local law enforcement to stop identity thieves in their tracks. Our Criminal Investigation division has worked on thousands of these cases, and has helped convict nearly 2,000 individuals for crimes related to identity theft and refund fraud over the last few years. And our work continues.

It’s clear that when it comes to identity theft, we all have a part to play. With the public’s help, this will greatly strengthen and improve the new tools being put in place by the IRS, states and industry. This will help us continue to make progress against this threat. I want to once again thank our partners in the states and industry for all the important work they have done, and continue to do, to help safeguard taxpayers and the tax system.

With the short time we have remaining, we’ll hear from our state and industry partners. They have some important information to share about actions they’re taking and actions taxpayers should take. This will be helpful for everyone to know, especially as we approach the 2016 tax filing season.

So with that, let me turn it over to David Sullivan. He’s Tax Administrator for the State of Rhode Island and immediate past president of the FTA.     

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