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IRS Data Retrieval Shutdown Makes Student Applications for College Aid Difficult

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An online tool that helped college students and their families complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application for financial assistance has been taken offline until the fall.

The IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), which was available at both fafsa.gov and StudentLoans.gov, was taken offline in March due to concerns that identity thieves were using the data to file fraudulent tax returns, says the U.S. Education Department (USED) and the IRS.

The IRS DRT provided tax information that automatically completes portions of the FAFSA application, saving students and their families the time required to manually fill in the information from the previous year’s tax return.

In a joint statement, the agencies say the IRS “is working to identify the number of taxpayers affected by questionable use of the Data Retrieval Tool.”

The statement continues:

Identity thieves may have used personal information obtained outside the tax system to access the FAFSA form in an attempt to secure tax information through the DRT. The IRS continues to review the extent to which this contributed to fraudulently filed tax returns. The IRS has identified instances where our strengthened fraud reviews stopped questionable tax returns by filers who also accessed the DRT.

The agencies also note that the “scope of affected taxpayers is still being determined.”

In 2015, the IRS experienced a cyber attack in which identity thieves stole data from the taxpayer accounts of 330,000 Americans, notes the Washington Post.

In their statement, the IRS and the USED advise college students and their families to retrieve their previously filed tax return to complete the FAFSA or apply for a student loan.

“We know this tool is an easy way for students and families working on applications to access their financial data,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “While this tool provides an important convenience for applicants, we cannot…

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