While the end of tax filing season is near, the end of IRS scams is nowhere in sight. Scams involving people posing as the IRS have been going on for a long time, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration estimates victims have lost over $36.5 million to IRS scams since October 2013. There are tell-tale signs to look out for in order to identify these scams.

What is Phishing?

Phishing, named so because it involves “fishing for information” and “hooking” victims, has been around for a while. Typically carried out through unsolicited emails, these scams can also be done on websites that are built to look like the official IRS website. The goal of phishing is to get personal and financial information from victims.

If you get an email you suspect is a phishing attempt, there are steps you should take:

  1. Do not reply.
  2. Do no open any attachments, they could contain virus or malware that could infect your device.
  3. Do not click on any links, this could also infect your computer, tablet, or phone.
  4. Forward or report the email to phishing@irs.gov. They will look into the email to see if they could find any useful information they could use to catch the scammers sending it.
  5. Delete the email.

Phone Call Scams

Phone calls have also been used by scammers for a long time. If the target doesn’t pick up the phone, the scammers will leave voicemails. They almost always sound urgent and threatening, sometimes warning it is the last call they will make before taking legal action. In the current tax season, some scams involve calls claiming the IRS needs to verify personal and financial information before being able to send a tax return.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, you should:

  1. Record any information you can about employee on phone, including name, badge number, call back number, etc.
  2. Call 1-800-366-4484, the number for the IRS, to check if the caller is a legitimate IRS employee.
  3. If they are not an employee, report the incident to TIGTA and email Phishing@irs.gov. They request the subject line of the email is “IRS Phone Scam”.  

Paper Mail Scams

Lastly, some scams do use paper mail, though this is done significantly less than emails and phone calls. If you get a letter labeled from the IRS and suspect it might be fraudulent, you should:

  1. Go to the IRS homepage and search the letter, notice, or form number, which will always be present.
  2. If this is a legitimate letter, you will find instructions on what to do with form.
  3. If you do not find the form on the site, you can call 1-800-829-1040 to further determine its legitimacy.
  4. Lastly, if it is not legitimate, report it to the TIGTA and to phishing@irs.gov.

How does the IRS contact you?

When the IRS needs to contact taxpayers, the first contact is usually by letter. The IRS will also use phone calls and in-person visits, but they will never initiate contact through email, text messages, or social media. If an IRS agent comes to your home or place of work, they will always be able to provide two official forms of identification.

In addition, the IRS will not:

  • Ask you to pay any outstanding balance or fee immediately, they will give you time to appeal the amount.
  • Demand that you pay in any specific way, such as wire transfer, gift cards, or loading money onto a cash card. You have options on how to pay legitimate IRS balances.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to arrest or deport you.

If you do think you are a victim of any type of IRS scam, you should report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. You should also file a complaint with the FTC here.

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