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Cybersecurity Intelligence

Cybercriminals Compromise the Student Aid Application Process

Every year, millions of post-secondary students access the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This year, the DRT is unavailable for FAFSA filers because of cybersecurity concerns. The information needed to complete the FAFSA can be found on a previously filed federal income tax return.

To apply for federal student aid, an individual must complete and submit the FAFSA. He or she will automatically be considered for federal student aid. In addition, the individual’s post-secondary institution may use his or her FAFSA information to determine eligibility for nonfederal aid. The DRT provides tax data that automatically fills in information for part of the FAFSA form.

Individuals who plan to attend post-secondary schools from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 must submit the 2017-2018 FAFSA. Individuals will need tax information from 2015 to complete the 2017-2018 FAFSA.

Suspicious activity
Earlier this year, the IRS reported that cybercriminals may have tried to obtain tax information through the DRT. The agency’s security filters identified fraudulent returns using information obtained from the DRT. According to the IRS, as many as 100,000 taxpayer accounts may have been compromised through the DRT by cyber thieves. In response, the IRS took the DRT offline.

FAFSA filers can manually provide their tax return information, the IRS has instructed. FAFSA filers can also use the IRS’s online Get Transcript Tool. Individuals can obtain a Tax Return Transcript, which reflects most line items including adjusted gross income (AGI) from the original tax return filed, along with any forms and schedules. This transcript is only available for the current tax year and returns processed during the prior three years. Individuals can also obtain a Tax Account Transcript, which reflects basic data such as return type, marital status, adjusted gross income, taxable income and all payment types. This transcript is available for the current tax year and up to 10 prior years. Keep in mind that a transcript is not a photocopy of the return. A transcript can be confusing to read.

Income-driven repayment plan
The DRT also provides tax data that automatically fills in information for the income-driven repayment (IDR) plan application for federal student loan borrowers. The DRT is online for DRT applications.
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