Last month, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Federal Student Aid (FSA) agency announced that the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) that families use to import tax information into the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, on the US Department of Education’s website could have been compromised. This means, basically, that as many as 100,000 taxpayers might have compromised personal data.
Data shows that this breach might be the most extensive since 2015. You may recall that during this breach, thieves had penetrated security measures to the tax returns of more than 300,000 people by using stolen data in order file fraudulent returns and acquire these associated refunds.
The IRS and FSA released a joint statement which advised, “While we are working to resolve these issues as quickly as possible, students and families should plan for the tool to be offline until the start of the next FAFSA season.”
Earlier this week, IRS commissioner John Koskinen advised that the agency did have an early indication, back in September, that “it was possible, with relatively little stolen information, to pretend you’re a student, go online, start to fill out an application, give permission for us to populate that application with tax data — most importantly, the adjusted gross income — and then complete the application.”
As the time, then, the IRS had relayed these concerns to the Department of Education, weighed against the idea that between 12 and 15 million people have applied for Federal student aid through the online system. Indeed, Koskinen comments “Fortunately we caught this at the front end. Our highest priority is making sure that we protect taxpayers and their identity.”
The IRS expects the DRT will not be operational again until, maybe September at the earliest. In the meantime, though, Koskinen says they face more tough questions in the process of solving the problem; after all, they still do not really know the breadth of this breach.
He also makes sure to advise that it is not in the best interest of the agency or the public to simply shut down a tool that millions of financial aid applicants have used before the evidence became clear; and a tool that millions more were likely planning to use. Still, he assures that they will get to the bottom of this, saying “Where I come from, if you sign up for a commitment, you complete that commitment.”