It can be daunting to be contacted by the IRS.  You may wonder if something was filed incorrectly or was missed, if there are financial consequences, and you may worry how to resolve the issue.  Because of this, scammers have started to impersonate the IRS to trick you out of your money. They are betting on the fact that you will be intimidated by IRS contact and will do anything to solve the problem. Scams skyrocket during tax season, but they can and do happen year-round.

What are the differences between real IRS contact and a scam?

There are two main ways scammers try to contact you: electronically and by telephone. Scammers will use electronic communication such as emails, texts, or even social media to infiltrate your computer or phone to steal your identity. They can spoof legitimate IRS phone numbers and will give you information they find online to convince you that you are speaking to a real IRS agent.  The intent is to create a sense of urgency and make you believe that if you don’t act immediately to clear up this bogus debt, there will be serious and damaging consequences. They will use threats, intimidation, and bullying to achieve their goal.

In general, if the IRS is trying to communicate with you, the first contact occurs via written correspondence sent through the U.S. Postal Service. You may receive follow-up correspondence by phone or even an in-person visit, but the first communication will never occur via phone, email, text message, or social media.  In fact, the IRS will never text you or use social media to reach you about a tax issue.  However, some scammers are sending fake documents through the mail so if you receive correspondence that says it’s from the IRS, scrutinize it closely. 

How can I tell if something is suspicious?

One of the most important things to pay attention to is if they ask you to use a form of payment such as a wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or a gift card and if they ask you to pay anyone else besides the US Treasury. Again, they want to create a sense of urgency, so they will make threats to arrest or deport you or suspend your driver’s license. They will even fraudulently file a tax return using the taxpayer’s actual bank account and call the taxpayer to demand the funds be transferred to a scammer. The IRS will never threaten arrest, demand payment without an opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed, ask for your debit or credit card numbers over the phone, or call you about an unexpected refund.

The hallmarks of a scam email are numerous like, spelling errors, capitalized words in the middle of the sentence, and odd phrasing.  The subject line won’t always make sense, and the email address isn’t quite right. For example, it won’t end in “.gov”.  It will end in “.com,” which is a quick way to know it is a scam.  They will almost always have an attachment or instructions to click a link because that is how they access your computer or phone and compromise your personal information.

What if I receive suspicious electronic communication?

When receiving a suspicious electronic communication, be sure not to react right away. Do not reply, open any attachments, or click any links.  Forward the email to [email protected].  If it is a text message, forward the text to 202-552-1226, and, if you can, create a new text message to this number and tell them the phone number that contacted you.  Finally, delete the email or text permanently.  It is also recommended to block the email address and phone number. 

What if I receive a suspicious phone call?

If you receive a call from a suspected scammer that fits the criteria outlined in this article, do not give them any information, and do not confirm anything they ask you.  Hang up immediately.  Report the call to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484 or on their website  Report it to the Federal Trade Commission on their website  The best course of action at this point is to call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 so you can be sure you are speaking with an actual IRS agent, and they can advise you if any of the information was accurate and if any action is needed.

Remain vigilant and informed

The scammers will never go away.  They are continuously becoming more clever in how they present themselves, so it is important to arm yourself with information before it happens.  Understand what to look for, how to control your reaction since they are trying hard to upset you into action, and how to contact the IRS yourself.  If the person calling you says, “This is your only chance.” or “We cannot help you if you hang up now,” they are scamming you.  If you can, always report these scam attempts to the agencies above.