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Why the IRS Discontinued the E-file PIN and What That Means for You

Updated for Tax Year 2021 • October 16, 2021 12:10 AM


Filing your taxes electronically is convenient and stress-free — but cyber-attacks have targeted the security of the Electronic Filing PIN, a unique signature used to file your taxes online. This attack caused the IRS to change its e-filing identification system for the 2018 tax year. Here's what happened, and what it means for e-filing your taxes this year.

A Targeted Cyber-Attack on the IRS

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On February 9, 2016, the IRS released a statement that identity thieves had tried to generate e-file PINs for stolen Social Security numbers (SSNs). Using an automated malware program, the thieves tried to generate PINs for roughly 464,000 stolen SSNs. The IRS identified and shut down the attacks, but not before the hackers created PINs for more than 100,000 SSNs.

Luckily, the identity thieves weren't able to access any actual tax information or taxpayer data—they simply used the SSNs to create e-file PINs. The IRS also contacted those impacted by the hack and flagged their accounts to protect against identity theft in the future.

The February attack didn't prompt the IRS to shut down its e-file PIN service. Since the attack happened in the middle of tax season, changing the electronic tax filing system would have proved inconvenient to taxpayers—but the attacks continued. After the filing deadline, the IRS announced it was closing its e-filing PIN service in June 2016.

How to File Your Taxes Electronically After the Change

While shuttering the e-file PIN program means you can't request a new PIN for the coming tax year, it's still easy to verify your identity and file your taxes online. Here are your options:

  1. Use a Self-Selected or Previously Issued PIN: If you've used a self-selected PIN in previous years, you can use the same PIN to file your taxes electronically for the 2020 tax year—in essence, you'll notice no difference. Or, if you've been issued an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN), you can use that to file your taxes online.
  2. Use Your 2019 Tax Return: You can also file your taxes online using your adjusted gross income (AGI) from last year's tax return to verify your identity. If you filed your taxes with TurboTax last year, you can access last year's tax filing to find your AGI. Look on Line 8b of the 2019 Form 1040.

Other Ways to Verify Your Identity

No 2019 return or PIN? No problem. First-time filers over the age of 16 can verify their identity by entering a previous AGI of zero. Or, if you can't track down your 2019 tax return, contact the IRS to request a transcript by mail or online so you can find your AGI.

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