Another week, another breach. That is how it seems these days. However, even once a breach has left the headlines, consumers need to keep their guard up because scammers and identity thieves don't just stop with their initial stolen goods.
People often wonder what happens to consumers’ data following reports of a major breach like the Anthem health insurance breach or the Home Depot breach. With millions of customers’ information potentially floating around, what happens to it?
The IRS might have just found out.
The government agency reported a hacking event recently that seems to have come from bulk access to a lot of consumers’ information. To clarify that, the IRS wasn’t “infiltrated” in the traditional sense that we think of when hackers break into a company’s network; instead, the thieves had the necessary information to log into the stored information of approximately 100,000 citizens, browse around through their tax return status, and then do further harm. Another 100,000 citizens had breaches of their statuses attempted, but the hackers were not successful in those cases.
For those victims whose tax returns were actually breached by the hackers, the threat initially involved stealing the tax refunds of people who were still awaiting their payments. There is now an increased likelihood of follow-up scams for those individuals, like contacting the victims and posing as an agent of the IRS. If that occurs, typically the behavior may include claiming that returns were invalid, stating that more taxes were owed, or even simply that there had been a hacking and they need to update their credentials. However the contact is made, it’s all designed to steal personal identifiable information from the victims while duping them into paying more money.
For now, the IRS is warning consumers to be on guard against fraudulent communications from scammers who pose as IRS agents. Those whose returns were actually accessed will be offered credit monitoring services, but the one hundred thousand consumers whose returns were attacked but not infiltrated are being warned that someone already has their information and is selling it on the black market. They must guard against future identity theft attempts by being vigilant about their data protection and monitoring their credit reports frequently. All consumers, whether their tax information was accessed or not, must remember that the IRS will never send communication via email or phone call; all official correspondence from the IRS will come in the form of a mailed letter, and any other forms of communication are not genuine.