Tax scams put your personal information and hard-earned money at risk. Each year, thousands of taxpayers fall prey to scammers pretending to be the IRS. It’s become so commonplace that the IRS issues an annual “Dirty Dozen” to warn people about potential phishing attacks and other malicious communications.
In most cases, the IRS will initiate contact by sending a letter or notice by postal mail. Depending on the situation, however, an IRS employee may also call or visit in person. So, how do you know if it’s the IRS or a scammer trying to contact you? Review the sections below to understand how the IRS communicates with taxpayers and the warning signs you should look for before giving out any of your personal information.
How The IRS Communicates With Taxpayers
You should receive several notices or letters by mail before the IRS attempts to contact you by other methods. If you have an overdue tax balance, a delinquent or unfiled tax return, or you haven’t made a required employment tax deposit, the IRS may also call you. They will not, however, leave a pre-recorded, urgent, or threatening voicemail.
Additionally, the IRS (or its authorized collection agencies) will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment by prepaid debit card or gift card.
- Threaten to have you arrested or deported for not paying your taxes.
- Demand payment without allowing you to question or appeal the amount owed.
- Request credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
If you don’t owe taxes or don’t believe you do, don’t give out any personal information. Hang up immediately! If you do have a tax balance, payments should only be made online at https://www.irs.gov/payments or by mail with checks made out to the U.S. Treasury. Never write a check to a third party.
An appeals officer may contact you by phone if you have filed a petition with the U.S. Tax Court. During the call, the officer will provide their name, badge number, and contact information. If you are still unsure about their identity, request your docket number and the specifics of your case. An appeals officer will have no trouble providing this information. In some cases, an officer may leave a voicemail. When this happens, they should include their name, title, badge number, and contact information.
Common Tactics of Tax Scammers
The IRS will never initiate contact by text or email to request your personal information. It does not discuss any personal tax issues, including overdue bills or refunds, through these channels. If you receive an unsolicited text message or fraudulent email that appears to be from the IRS, report it immediately.
- Text Messages – Take a screenshot of the text message and include it in an email to email@example.com. Be sure to include the date and time (and time zone) the message was received, as well as the phone number that received it.
- Emails – Send the email as an attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org. Do not forward the email.
Do not open any attachments or click links in unsolicited, suspicious, or unexpected messages (text or email) claiming to be from the IRS, state tax agencies, or others in the tax community. These are common tactics by scammers to gain access to your computer, IRS account, and other financial information.
Unexpected In-Person Visits
Generally, the IRS will not visit you in person before reaching out to you through the mail (tax notice or letter). There are, however, limited exceptions. For example, if you are a business owner who is behind on your employment taxes, you could get an unexpected visit from a revenue officer before a balance-due notice is created or mailed.
An IRS revenue agent may also make an in-person visit if you’re being audited. This, however, is never done without your knowledge. You should always be notified by mail and set an agreed-upon appointment. The auditor may also call to confirm the date and time, as well as discuss items pertaining to the scheduled appointment.
If you are visited by someone claiming to be from the IRS, ask for identification and credentials. IRS representatives always carry IRS-issued credentials (also known as a pocket commission) and an HSPD-12 card, which is a standard form of identification for federal employees. For additional tips on determining if the person is really from the IRS, check out “How to Know if It’s Really the IRS Calling or Knocking on Your Door.”
If you’re worried that a letter, notice, or other IRS communication is not legitimate, contact the IRS. For individual taxpayer questions, call 800-829-1040 anytime between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. local time. Business questions should be directed to 800-829-4933 during the same hours. You can also call Tax Defense Network at 855-476-6920 for a free consultation.