Even if don’t have tax problems, you may get an email or a phone call announcing that the IRS has discovered a mistake in your tax filing and owe YOU money. Typically, its some very large number that can tempt people to respond. Don’t bother.

Sometimes the crooks will even show up in person, impersonating IRS agents with fake credentials, demanding payment or partial payments. They may even make a ridiculous promise about canceling your debt – don’t believe it. Criminals lie – it’s part of the con.

Here are some facts about how the IRS interacts with taxpayers. Stick to this guide.

What the IRS does and doesn’t Do

The IRS communicates in writing by mail from the U.S. Postal service. They are fond of long-form letters and will typically send them more than one time.

There may be tax issues that require the IRS to contact you by phone or visit your property – typically very rare – you will be notified well in advance by written communication.

Unless you’re involved in a criminal undertaking, such as tax evasion or fraud, IRS agents don’t just show up.

Phone Calls

The IRS does not call taxpayers out of the blue to threaten them or demand payments.

If you get a phone call or a voicemail from someone claiming to be an IRS agent, it’s a lie and a con. Criminals can use a technique called “spoofing” to change their phone number, so when the call may look like it’s coming from an IRS office.

It’s not.

They try to scare you with threats of arrest, that they are coming to seize your home or car. They threaten deportation, your family members – they will take your mother’s home if you don’t pay up. They always tell you, you have to call NOW.

Don’t do it.

This goes for calls about exorbitant refunds or any other communications supposedly from the IRS. Scammers often use robocalling – an automated pre-recorded call that spams thousands of phone numbers.

No matter what they say, how it’s said or the phone number you see – it isn’t the IRS. And they don’t text you either.

Email Communications

You open up your email and see the IRS in your INBOX. As you may have guess by now – it’s not the IRS.

The IRS never sends you an email – just like they never phone you.

The email may include personal information, like the last 4 digits of your Social Security number or the name of the bank you use. They may demand you provide additional information or threaten dire consequences.

Don’t do it.

Fortunately, email providers are getting better recognizing spam but don’t ever click on any link in these or other unsolicited emails. The IRS NEVER requests personal or financial information by email – they don’t email you at all.

Social Media

It should go without saying that the IRS does not communicate with taxpayers through social media. But that doesn’t mean scammers won’t try. Any communications via private message or DM – it’s not the IRS.

Please do not react or respond to any email, any voicemail, phone call or fax claiming to be from the IRS. Do not ever give your social security number, bank account information or credit card numbers over the phone or online in response to one.

Go to the IRS.gov website to get the latest on Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts

What are the most common tax scams?

The latest con reported on the IRS website is a particularly cruel phone scam. In this case, the callers pretend to be from the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), an independent office in the IRS that assists people with understanding and protecting their rights.

If you’re struggling with a tax problem, when you receive this call – typically requesting you provide personal or financial information, you may feel inclined to respond. The phone number seems to be from a legitimate TAS office. These callers are not abusive or threatening, they only want to help.

No, they don’t. TAS employees do not contact taxpayers out of the blue. They never initiate contact, you have to call them. The phone number has been spoofed (see below for more details.)

Even if you are actually working with a TAS advocate – do not respond to this call. Hang up immediately and call the TAS office to talk with your advocate. He or she will tell you how to report the scam.

It should go without saying that if the calling number is blocked – on any call you receive – it’s definitely not the IRS.

Phone Spoofing

Phone spoofing is basically replacing your actual number behind a different number of your choosing. For example, if you wanted to prank someone, you can make your call look like it’s coming from the number at the White House.

When criminals use this technology, it’s not a joke. It’s a very available and affordable way to prey on innocent people – particularly in tax scams. The phone numbers for the IRS – and TAS – are publicly available in most cases.

Scammers use a variety of methods to spoof numbers, but the premise remains the same – they replace their number with another one.

Amazingly, it’s still legal to do that in the United States – it’s only illegal if the caller has an “intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.” Criminals, especially those who run their scams outside the United States have little to fear.

Email Phishing

Email phishing is much more than just spam. Scammers send out thousands of emails – a scattergun approach – to try and collect personal information.

The email often appears to be from a reliable or familiar source, in our case from the IRS. They will include the IRS logo, even the name of an actual IRS agent. And there’s the link – there is always a link.

The email may claim that to get your tax refund, you need to update your information, or warn you that your tax installment plan will be canceled if you don’t confirm your bank information.

If you click the link – which you definitely shouldn’t do – you’ll be taken to a fake website that looks very legitimate and be asked to provide your Social Security number, your bank account, and routing numbers, your credit card number, phone and address.

In other words, you’ve just provided them with all the information they need to steal your identity and wreak havoc on your finances.

Never click a link in an unexpected email – no matter who it comes from.

Fake IRS Forms

A recent scam is targeting foreign citizens working legally in the United States. They are required to file a W8-BEN form (Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding.) Con and fraudsters often target these individuals with requests to provide additional information.

They may send a link to a false form or ask for personal information that isn’t required on the actual form. Because these workers are not from America, they may not be familiar with how the IRS operates.

The IRS does not call or email individual taxpayers – American or otherwise – to request additional information on a form. Consider this a phishing call or email.

How to report an IRS scam

The IRS actively tries to prevent taxpayer scams. Use the information below to report phone spoofing, and email phishing and any other fraudulent behavior.

Report Phone Spoofing: Do not give out any personal information, hang up immediately. Use the form provided on the website for the Treasury Dept. Inspector General to report the call.

Report Phishing Emails: Do not click on any links in the email. Forward the email to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov, This includes any email that appears fraudulent, demanding payment, offering refunds or requesting more information on a form.

Victim of a Scam

IRS scams don’t stop after April 15th, they continue year-round. A few recent warnings include:

  • TAS spoofing for non-existent tax debt
  • “Ghost” tax preparer – unqualified individuals who pretend to prepare and file your returns
  • Phishing emails related to tax transcripts which load malware on your system
  • Fake charities abound in natural disasters, pretending to be tax-exempt non-profits to collect donations that never go to victims

When your identity is stolen, tax scammers can file false tax returns in your name to steal your refund. And unlike a credit card, you can’t just call up and cancel your Social Security number.

If you’ve been victimized or provided private information to a scammer over the phone or online, here’s what to do.

  1. Notify the IRS. Call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800.908.4490 and complete Form 14039, the Identify Theft Affidavit, so that the IRS is aware that your future returns may be at risk.
  2. Notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Social Security Administration (SSA).
  3. Apply for an IRS protection pin. The six-digit IP PIN is used to validate any future tax returns. When scammers try to submit without one – the return triggers a fraud investigation
  4. Make sure you communicate your situation to at least one if not all of the major credit reporting agencies.

In Closing

IRS tax scams are a year-round operation – they don’t stop after April 15th. Be careful, protect yourself by remembering these facts:

  • The IRS never calls to demand immediate payment or threaten taxpayers with arrest.
  • The IRS will never ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone. They already have your bank account information on file.
  • The IRS does not email payment demands, threats of enforcement including arrest or seizing of property. They don’t email you to update information about anything – from password to SS numbers to financial information.
  • The IRS will never contact you about tax issues on social media.

Always remember, tax scammers are crooks – they work hard at doing their job and they are always looking for new technology and techniques to prey on vulnerable people for personal gain.

Don’t be one of them.