Individuals impersonating IRS officials are out there, using their best efforts to intimidate people into paying a fake tax bill. Scams take many shapes and forms, such as phone calls, letters, and emails. Some scammers may even threaten to arrest or deport their would-be victim if they don’t pay. The IRS continually updates its website (www.irs.gov) with information on the most current scams and how to report them. Here is an overview of how and when the IRS contacts taxpayers.
1. How Does the IRS Contact Taxpayers?
The IRS begins almost all communications with taxpayers through regular U.S. mail. However, there are certain times when an IRS representative will call or show up at a home or business (such as to discuss collection action on an overdue tax bill, to tour a business as part of an audit, or during a criminal investigation, as discussed below).
An IRS representative will always provide two forms of official identification (pocket commission and HSPD-12 card), and you have the right to see these credentials. Additionally, if you receive a call or fax from someone claiming to be with the IRS and you are not sure if it is a legitimate request, you can contact the IRS at 800-829-4933 to verify the validity of the call or fax. Keep in mind that the IRS doesn’t typically call people up “out of the blue;” if a representative is calling or visiting, then the taxpayer has most likely been unresponsive to several written notices.
2. Telltale Signs of a Scam.
The IRS does not:
(a) Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer.
(b) Demand that you pay taxes without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount it says you owe.
(c) Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers, or other law-enforcement to have you arrested for not paying.
The IRS instructs taxpayers to make payments to the United States Treasury and provides specific guidelines on how you can make a tax payment at www.irs.gov/payments.
3. Why would the IRS Visit a Taxpayer?
IRS visits usually fall into one of three categories: collections, audits, and criminal investigations.
IRS collection employees may call or come to a home or business unannounced to request payment for an overdue tax debt; however, a taxpayer would normally have first received several notices from the IRS in the mail. The IRS may assign some cases to private debt collectors, but only after providing written notice to the taxpayer. Even then, the private debt collector will direct that payment be made to the United States Treasury.
IRS employees conducting audits may call taxpayers to set up appointments or to discuss items with the taxpayers, but only after having first attempted to notify them by mail.
- Criminal Investigations
IRS criminal investigators may visit a taxpayer’s home or business unannounced while conducting an investigation. However, these are federal law enforcement agents and they will not demand any sort of payment.
4. How to Report a Scam.
Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report a phone scam. Use the “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” webpage at https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml. You can also call 800-366-4484.
Also report phone scams to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on www.FTC.gov and indicate “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
Report an unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS, or an IRS-related component like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. What if it Really is the IRS?
Of course, if you really have been contacted by the IRS about the collection of a debt or a potential or ongoing audit and you need help, do not hesitate to call us. We may be able to assist you with disputing liabilities you believe are not correct, negotiating a payment plan, requesting removal of penalties, and/or handling an audit.
Cindy Strom Arellano is head of the firm's business and tax team. Her practice focuses on employee benefits and executive compensation, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement plans, health and welfare ...
- Senior Counsel
Lisa Zaradich practices primarily in the areas of business transactional law, advising both nonprofit and for-profit organizations, and resolution of tax controversy, including audits and assessments by the IRS, EDD, FTB, and ...
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