Prepared Remarks of John Koskinen at the Security Summit Press Briefing July 25, 2017

July 25, 2017

Thank you all for joining us. I’m delighted to have a chance to talk with you while I’m here in Dallas for the IRS’s Nationwide Tax Forum.

Today I want to provide an update on the progress we’re making in protecting taxpayers and their information from the crime of identity theft. I also want to talk about the steps we’re taking to get taxpayers and tax professionals to help us in this battle. In fact, protecting against identity theft and raising security awareness is one of the key topics being discussed with tax professionals at our tax forum here in Dallas. It will also be the focal point at IRS Tax Forums coming up in the next few weeks in Washington, D.C., Las Vegas and San Diego.

Just a few years ago, identity theft exploded and threatened to overwhelm the nation’s tax system, affecting the IRS, states and the private sector. While we had been making some inroads against identity theft, we took a critical step in March 2015 when we formed the Security Summit Group.

This is an unprecedented partnership that includes the IRS, private-sector tax industry leaders and state tax commissioners. Some of our partners are here with us today. Joining me are:

Mark Steber, Jackson Hewitt

CeCe Morken, Intuit

John Ams, National Society of Accountants

Larry Gray, National Association of Tax Professionals

Nina Tross, National Society of Tax Professionals

Thanks to the work of these Summit partners and many others over the past two years, we’ve increased our ability to protect taxpayers against identity theft as well as help protect against refund fraud. This progress would not have been possible without everyone pulling together.

 This join effort is important, because increasingly, these crimes are being perpetrated by sophisticated, organized-crime syndicates around the world. They’ve been able to gather almost unimaginable amounts of personal data from sources outside the IRS and the tax system. They use this data to try to file fraudulent federal and state tax income returns.

I am pleased to be able to report that we are clearly making progress in this battle. Our Summit partners have tightened their procedures, and the IRS and states have taken steps to strengthen our systems.  Since 2015, we’ve had fewer fraudulent returns entering our systems, fewer bad refunds going out the door, and fewer tax-related identity theft victims than in previous years. In fact, the number of people victimized by identity theft declined from 698,700 in Calendar Year 2015 to 376,500 in 2016 – a drop of nearly half.

We’re now at a point where we’re getting our first numbers on identity theft for the 2017 filing season. I’d like to share some new statistics today that show this trend line continuing, with the number of victims continuing to fall sharply during the 2017 tax season.

In the first five months of 2017, about 107,400 taxpayers reported they were victims of identity theft, compared to the same period in 2016 when 204,000 filed victim reports. That’s about 96,000 fewer victims – representing a drop of 47 percent.  For comparison, we had nearly 297,000 identity theft victims during the first five months of 2015.

So when you look at the last two years, the number of taxpayers reporting they are victims of tax-related identity theft has declined by about two-thirds. That’s an amazing statistic.

This stunning decline over two years is the direct result of continued good work by IRS employees and the ongoing efforts of our partners in the private sector and state tax administrators.

But there is still more to be done. In fact, we need to be prepared to fight on new fronts. For example, we’re seeing an increase in identity theft involving business-related tax returns. This shows that identity thieves are constantly working to come up with new ways to get around the barriers we’ve put up. That’s why we’re working to put more taxpayer protections in place for the 2018 filing season. We will be sharing more details on those this fall.

And yet 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. This includes both individuals and businesses. And we want to ask for help again today: We need the public’s help, and we need the help of tax professionals across the country to protect against identity theft.

I can’t stress enough how important this is. Stolen identity refund fraud touches nearly everyone, and we all have a part to play in stopping it.

So the Security Summit will be continuing its public awareness campaign, called “Taxes. Security. Together.” that we began nearly two years ago. It’s aimed at getting taxpayers to take more data security precautions. We’re also encouraging everyone to learn how to recognize and avoid scammers who try to trick people into disclosing personal financial data such as Social Security numbers or credit card numbers – either over the phone or by email. That’s critical to keeping this very sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.

As we’ve made progress against identity theft in 2016 and 2017, we see the fraudsters changing their tactics. They are having more trouble getting past our security protections in our tax processing systems. So they are increasingly taking aim at the places where large amounts of taxpayer data reside. That means trying to access data belonging to tax return preparers, and other tax professionals, as well as the payroll community, small employers and human resources departments.

We are getting the word out to tax return preparers, through the “Protect Your Clients, Protect Yourself” campaign launched last year. We want to make sure preparers are using the best security practices available, to ensure they’re safeguarding their own data and that of their clients.

To raise awareness still further, we began a special 10-week public awareness campaign earlier this month. We call it “Don’t Take the Bait.” In other words, don’t be fooled by the scams out there. Each week of the campaign, we’re highlighting a different subject to help return preparers learn more about these scams and understand what steps they should be taking to protect their systems and their clients’ data.  

Many of these steps are very straightforward. For example, be on your guard when opening email. Don’t click on links or open attachments in email. Also, use strong passwords and change them often. Update your security software. Store taxpayer data on secure systems. Encrypt your emails. Simple steps, but very important ones that many people ignore or simply forget.

I want to thank the tax professional community and the national associations for their work on this outreach effort as well as for taking a very active role in our Security Summit initiatives over the past two years.

Clearly, there’s still much more for all of us to do. But thanks to the Security Summit, we’ve come a long way in a short time. After seeing what we’ve been able to accomplish together thus far, I have no doubt we’ll keep making progress, and continue improving our ability to safeguard taxpayers and our tax system.

With that, I’ll take your questions.