Knock. Knock. IRS Calling!
In a time where everyone can be anyone, it is important to be on the lookout for scams pretending to be the Internal Revenue Service. Read on to learn more about how to protect your tax identity and get a refresher on how the IRS will actually contact you.
Identity Theft and Your Taxes
Your identity and money can be stolen in a tax-related scam via email (“phishing”), fax, phone, or letters. Some common examples of identity theft scams are:
Phone scam. A bogus phone call or text message where you are told you owe the IRS money and threatened that a warrant will be issued for your arrest. Variations include the threat of other law-enforcement agency intervention, deportation, or revocation of licenses. Some scam artists program their computers to display IRS phone numbers on your caller ID.
Email phishing scam. A bogus email that appears to be from the IRS or a program closely related to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), that attempts to trick you into revealing personal and financial information. The email includes links to bogus websites intended to mirror the official IRS website.
Tax transcript. The bogus email carries an attachment labeled “Tax Account Transcript” or something similar, and the subject line uses some variation of the phrase “tax transcript.” The attachment may contain a computer virus or malware.
IRS refunds. A bogus email, claiming to come from the IRS, tells you that you are eligible to receive a tax refund for a given amount if you just follow the instructions in the email.
Notify the IRS
If you receive a tax-related phishing email, do not click on the links or open any attachments. Forward the email to email@example.com or call the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.
Understanding How the IRS Contacts Taxpayers
Here’s how you can know if a person calling or visiting your home or place of business is a legitimate IRS employee or an imposter.
Text messages: Always a scam. The IRS does NOT send text messages, including shortened links, asking you to verify some bit of personal information. These fraudulent messages often contain bogus links claiming to be IRS websites or other on-line tools. Other than IRS Secure Access, the IRS does not use text messages to discuss personal tax issues, such as those involving bills or refunds.
If you receive an unsolicited SMS/text that appears to be from either the IRS or a program closely linked to the IRS, you should take a screenshot of the text message and include the screenshot in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information:
Date, time, and time zone you received the text message.
Phone number that received the text message.
Do not click links or open attachments in unsolicited, suspicious, or unexpected text messages whether from the IRS, state tax agencies, or others in the tax community.
Email: Almost always a scam. The IRS does NOT initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail. If you receive an unsolicited fraudulent email that appears to be from either the IRS or a program closely linked to the IRS, report it by sending the email as an attachment to email@example.com. The Report Phishing and Online Scams page at IRS.gov provides complete details.
Do not click links or open attachments in unsolicited, suspicious, or unexpected email messages whether from the IRS, state tax agencies, or others in the tax community.
Mail: Generally legitimate. Taxpayers will generally first receive several letters from the IRS in the mail.
Telephone: Be cautious! While rare, there are circumstances when the IRS will call, including when a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill, a delinquent or unfiled tax return, or has not made an employment tax deposit.
The IRS does not leave pre-recorded, urgent, or threatening voice messages. Additionally, the IRS (and its authorized private collection agencies) will never:
Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a pre-paid debit card or gift card. The IRS does not use these methods for tax payments.
Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
Demand that taxes be paid without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
All tax payments should only be made payable to the U.S. Treasury and checks should never be made payable to third parties. For anyone who does not owe taxes and has no reason to think they do: Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
Unannounced Revenue Officer Visits: Call the police! In July 2023, the IRS announced announced a major shift in policy - unannounced revenue officer visits would end immediately. Knowing that information, if any individual is physically at your home or place of business stating to be an IRS revenue officer and they have no appointment, you should immediately deny them entry or ask them to leave, and you should call the police immediately to report the impersonation.
Planned/Scheduled Revenue Office Visit: Generally legitimate. If the IRS has contacted your via the mail to resolve a matter, and you have been working directly with a revenue agent or general IRS representative, you may be asked for an in-person meeting. Typically, these will occur in an IRS office; however, some meetings may occur in your home or at your tax preparers office if you are in a rural community. What is important is that you will know the meeting is happening and will have agreed to it well in advance.
While the Internal Revenue Service has a perception of being hard-nosed and unbending, the goal of any revenue agent is to actually assist you as a taxpayer. If you are interacting with someone who is becoming belligerent or demanding certain information, you have a right to ask for their revenue agent badge number, their name, and the department's direct contact information (typically a phone number and mailing address). Anyone with the IRS, especially a revenue agent, who will not give you a badge number is probably not actually with the IRS.
It is also important to know that you can have your trusted tax preparer assist you with any IRS inquiry or issue. All you have to do is reach out to your tax pro, and they'll know exactly how to help.
Legal Disclaimer: This post contains general information for taxpayers and should not be relied upon as the only source of authority. Taxpayers should seek professional tax advice for more information. This information was current at time of posting; we are not responsible for updating this or any blog post/article for subsequent changes in the law or its interpretation.
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