Protect Yourself and Your Business from IRS Scams

It can be difficult to decipher legitimate communications from scams these days, especially when it comes to your taxes and finances. Unfortunately, criminals impersonating the IRS—whether by phone, email or even in person—is quite common, and costs innocent taxpayers time, money and security. However, there are some things to keep in mind to protect you from these schemes and avoid becoming a victim, including the tips below:

The IRS typically initiates contact with taxpayers via mail delivered by the U.S. Post Office, not by email or phone calls, though there are some exceptions; circumstances when the IRS will call or pay you or your business a visit are:

  • Following up on overdue tax bills.
  • Securing a delinquent tax return or employment tax payment.
  • Touring a business, such as part of an audit or during a criminal investigation.

Note, even for the above instances, the IRS will generally send out at least one notice (sometimes multiple notices)
by mail.

Aggressive telephone calls may be the most common approach to IRS scams. Criminals impersonate IRS employees with fake names and identification badge numbers, and do not accurately reflect how the IRS would truly handle an
enforcement situation. The following approaches taken by criminals are evidence that you’re dealing with a scam rather than a legitimate issue:

  • Demands for specific payment methods, such as wire transfer, gift card or prepaid debit card; the IRS does not ask for debit or credit card numbers over the phone. The IRS may direct taxpayers who owe money to handle their transaction online at
  • Demands for immediate payment. Normal correspondence from the IRS begins with a notice (i.e. letter) in the mail; taxpayers have the right to appeal or question money they are said to owe, and all taxpayers are encouraged to review their rights as a taxpayer. Learn more at
  • Threats to involve police or have people arrested or deported for not paying. The IRS cannot revoke a license or immigration status, so this is a tell tail sign of a scam!

IRS employees may make official, and sometimes unannounced, visits to discuss owed taxes due to an audit or
investigation. When this happens, true IRS representatives will provide their official credentials—called a pocket
commission and a HSPD-12 card, which is a government-wide card used as a standard form of reliable ID for federal employees and contractors. Taxpayers have the right to see these credentials and ask for a toll-free employee
verification phone number they can call upon request. Some other things to keep in mind:

  • IRS collection employees will never demand immediate payment to a source other than “U.S. Treasury.”
  • IRS employees conducting criminal investigations are federal law enforcement agents and will never
    demand money.
  • IRS employees may call taxpayers to schedule appointments or discuss audits, but not without attempting
    to notify taxpayers by mail first.

Email is another commonplace for scammers to bait innocent taxpayers into their scheme. They send phony emails that may appear to be legitimate, but request information such as refunds, filing status, personal information, ordering transcripts and verifying personal identification numbers; this is known as phishing. The IRS does not use email, text messages or social media to reach out to taxpayers regarding debts or refunds, so if you receive a message along these lines you can be sure it is a scam!

Sometimes the IRS assigns certain overdue tax debts to private collection agencies (PCAs). Here are a few things to know if you receive a call from an IRS-contracted agency:

  • The IRS will send a notification letter to the taxpayer letting them know their case has been turned over to one of four PCAs. The PCA will follow up with a letter confirming the assignment.
  • The IRS will assign a taxpayer’s account to only one of these PCAs, never to all four.
  • PCA representatives will identify themselves and will ask for payment to “U.S. Treasury,” will not ask for payment on a prepaid debit or gift card and will not take enforcement action.

What you can do if you suspect a scam:

  • Taxpayers can report IRS impersonation scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration
    online here.
  • Phone scams can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission using this FTC Complaint Assistant.
    Tip: put “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
  • Unsolicited emails can be reported to the IRS at

Avoiding fraudulent activity can sometimes be a bit tricky with the high level of sophistication that criminals have these days, but armed with these helpful tips, we believe you can protect yourself and / or your business from becoming
a victim.

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