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IRS Took Down FAFSA-Autofill Tool to Prevent Identity Theft

The exterior of the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington.

The exterior of the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington. // Susan Walsh/AP File Photo

An online tool that auto-filled tax data for federal student loan applications has been temporarily removed in an effort to stave off identity thieves.

The Internal Revenue Service is suspending the "Data Retrieval" feature on its online Free Application for Federal Student Aid, meaning applicants will need to copy their financial information from tax returns or from the software they use to file their taxes, according to the IRS. The same tool was used for the income-driven repayment application process.

The tool could be down for several weeks, according to an IRS announcement. The agency said it's trying to fix the problem "as quickly as possible."

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The suspension of the Data Retrieval Tool was a precaution "following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves."

The IRS and Federal Student Aid together are investigating those risks, and also collaborating on a way to make the DRT more secure from potential thieves. The IRS announcement called the problem "relatively isolated" and noted "no additional action is needed by taxpayers or people using these applications."

IRS recommended applicants unable to get a copy of their tax returns request a transcript through the IRS site, which requires them to verify their identities.

The IRS has struggled with cybersecurity problems in the past; the Government Accountability Office has repeatedly pointed out glaring security flaws in the agency's cyber protocol, including that employee passwords weren't secure enough and that user passwords often didn't expire at regular intervals, potentially putting taxpayer information at risk.

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