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Scam Alert: Know The Facts About How The IRS Contacts Taxpayers

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Criminals impersonating the IRS either by phone, email or in person cost people their time and money. Stay vigilant against schemes and scams to avoid becoming a victim. This article contains important tips for taxpayers to keep in mind.

How the real IRS initiates contact

The IRS initiates contact with taxpayers mostly through regular mail delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. However, there are special circumstances in which the IRS will call or even come to a home or business:

  • When a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill
  • To secure a delinquent tax return or a delinquent employment tax payment
  • To tour a business. For example, as part of an audit or during a criminal investigation. Even then, taxpayers will generally first receive a letter, or sometimes more than one letter (often called “notices”) from the IRS in the mail.

Telephone scams

Criminals impersonate IRS employees and call taxpayers in aggressive and sophisticated ways. Imposters claim to be IRS employees and sound very convincing. They use fake names and phony IRS identification badge numbers. They’re demanding and threatening – and do not reflect how the IRS handles enforcement matters.

The IRS does not do the following:

  • Demand that people use a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer. The IRS will not ask for debit or credit card numbers over the phone. If you owe taxes, make payment(s) to the U.S. Treasury, or review for IRS online options.
  • Demand immediate tax payment. Normal correspondence begins with a letter in the mail and taxpayers can appeal or question what they owe. All taxpayers are advised to know their rights as a taxpayer.
  • Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law enforcement agencies to arrest people for not paying. The IRS also cannot revoke a license or immigration status. Threats like these are common tactics scam artists use to trick victims into believing their schemes.

IRS employees may make official, unannounced visits

IRS employees may make official and sometimes unannounced visits to discuss taxes owed or returns due as a part of an audit or investigation. Taxpayers will typically first receive a letter or notice from the IRS in the mail. If a taxpayer has an outstanding federal tax debt, IRS will request full payment, but they will provide a range of payment options.

Here are the facts:

  • All IRS representatives should always provide their official credentials, which consist of a pocket commission and an HSPD-12 card. The HSPD-12 card is a government-wide standard form of reliable identification for federal employees and contractors. Taxpayers have the right to see these credentials. IRS employees can provide an additional method to verify their identification. Upon request, they’re able to provide a toll-free employee verification telephone number.
  • Collection employees won’t demand immediate payment to a source other than “U.S. Treasury”.
  • IRS employees may call taxpayers to set up appointments or discuss audits, but not without first attempting to notify taxpayers by mail.
  • IRS employees conducting criminal investigations are federal law enforcement agents and will never demand money.

Find more information about IRS Criminal Investigation and how to know if it’s really the IRS calling or knocking on doors for audits and  collections at

Avoid email, phishing and malware schemes

Scammers send emails that trick businesses and taxpayers into thinking their messages are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry. As part of phishing schemes, scammers sometimes ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics, such as refunds, filing status, personal information, ordering transcripts and verifying personal identification numbers.

The IRS does not use email, text messages or social media to discuss tax debts or refunds with taxpayers.

Calls from IRS-contracted private collection agencies

The IRS assigns certain overdue tax debts to private debt collection agencies, or PCAs. Here are the facts about this program:

Before you are contacted by a private collection agency, you will receive two letters.

  1. The IRS will first send Notice CP40 and Publication 4518. These let you know that your overdue tax account was assigned to a private collection agency.
  2. The private collection agency then sends their initial contact letter. It has information on how to resolve your overdue taxes.

Both letters contain a Taxpayer Authentication Number. It’s used to confirm your identity. It’s also for you to verify that the caller is legitimate. Keep this number in a safe place.

How to report scams

Taxpayers can use these options to report phone, email and other impersonation scams:

  • Report impersonation scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration on the IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting webpage.
  • Report phone scams to the Federal Trade Commission using the FTC Complaint Assistant. Add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.
  • Report an unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS or an IRS-related system, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, to the IRS at [email protected].