What Would the IRS Do? Learn How to Spot a Tax Scam

Posted on: February 6, 2015

Would you know if you were being set up by a tax scam? Some clever scammers take advantage of taxpayers’ anxiety about the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in order to steal your money and gain access to your personal information. The best way to combat these fraud schemes is to learn how the real IRS operates—and how they don’t!

The IRS Doesn’t Communicate with Taxpayers via Email

It’s true: the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email and does not ask for personal or financial information over email. However, phishing is a widely-used scam to trick taxpayers into handing over that information to scammers.

Phishers will send emails that appear to be from the IRS, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), or another IRS-affiliated agency.

If you receive an email that seems suspicious, the IRS asks that you do the following:

  1. Don’t reply.
  2. Don’t open any attachments. They can contain malicious code that may infect your computer or mobile phone.
  3. Don’t click on any links. Visit the IRS’ identity protection page if you clicked on links in a suspicious email or website and entered confidential information.
  4. Forward the email as-is to phishing@irs.gov. Don’t forward scanned images because this removes valuable information.
  5. Delete the original email.

The IRS Doesn’t Call and Demand Payment

One of the most common tax-time scams is done via phone. Here’s how it’s done:

A scammer calls you and pretends to be an IRS agent. He gives his name and “IRS badge number.” He seems know a lot of information about you and informs you that you owe money to the IRS that can only be paid by wire transfer or pre-paid debit card. If you refuse to pay or question the caller, the scammer often responds in an aggressive and threatening manner.

Here’s how you know it’s a scam. The IRS does not, and will never:

  • Call to demand payment. If you owe money to the IRS, they will first send you a bill in the mail. They will not call you unless a bill has already been sent to you.
  • Demand immediate payment. Even when you owe the IRS money, they will not insist on payment without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method. The IRS accepts various forms of payment and will never demand you use one particular form.
  • Ask for credit card or debit card numbers over the phone. It’s good practice to never give these numbers out to anyone who calls you.
  • Threaten you. The IRS will not threaten to have you arrested or deported. Nor can they take away your driver’s license.

NOTE: Some of these scammers are quite sophisticated and can alter the caller ID information to make it look like they are actually calling from an IRS office when they are not.

If someone calls you claiming to be an IRS employee and uses any of the tactics mentioned above, the IRS asks that you do the following, if possible:

  1. Record the employee’s name, badge number, call back number, and caller ID if available.
  2. Call 1-800-366-4484 to determine if the caller is an IRS employee with a legitimate need to contact you.
  • If the person calling you is an IRS employee, call them back.
  • If not, report the incident to TIGTA and to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov (Subject: ‘IRS Phone Scam’)

Learn more about tax scams from the IRS.

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