Protect Yourself from Scammers: Understand How the IRS Will Contact You

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Staff Writer - Angela
October 29, 2018

Maintaining communication with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is one of your most important responsibilities as a taxpayer. Unfortunately, scammers will attempt to take advantage of this responsibility by posing as IRS agents, which is why it’s important to learn about the different ways the IRS will communicate with you and how to tell official correspondence from a fake. If you’ve ever wondered, “how does the IRS contact you?” this article has all of the information that you need.

Reaching You by Mail

If the IRS needs to get in touch with you, they will first send you a notice by mail. IRS letters are sent through the United States Postal Service and should have the agency’s shield on both the envelope and the actual letter.

On the top right corner of IRS letters, you’ll find either a letter or notice number. The letter should also have identifying information about you such as your Social Security number. Copying an IRS letter is difficult, but it’s common for scammers to attempt to mimic these documents. If you notice something on the letter looks suspicious, you should call the IRS directly.

It’s also important to understand that the IRS will never attempt to contact you electronically. The agency does not send text messages or emails, and they will never contact you on a social media site. If you receive a message through any of these mediums claiming to be from the IRS, report it to the actual agency.

Phone Calls From the IRS

The IRS routinely calls taxpayers to deal with a variety of issues. An IRS officer may call you to talk about your delinquent taxes and to arrange a solution for you to pay off the debt. It’s important to note that you will almost never receive a call from an IRS officer without first receiving a mailed notification arranging the phone call.

In some cases, you may receive a call from a private debt collector about your tax debt. As with calls directly from the IRS, a private collector cannot call you until a written notice has been received by you or your tax attorney. Private debt collectors are also required to observe your rights as a taxpayer, as well as the consumer protection rules outlined in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

In-Person Visits

In some cases, you may receive an in-person visit from an IRS revenue officer. During the visit, the revenue officer may wish to discuss one of several issues:

  • Back taxes you owe.
  • A tax return that you have failed to file.
  • Missed payroll tax deposits if you are a business owner.

Typically, an in-person visit from a revenue officer will not occur before you have received a letter informing you of the appointment’s date and time. In some cases, a visit may be unannounced, especially if you have failed to respond to other communications. If you owe back taxes, the revenue officer may request that you make a payment. Revenue officers will only request that your payment be sent to the United States Treasury. If the officer requests that you make a payment to another recipient, they are likely not an IRS representative.

If the IRS suspects you of tax fraud, you may receive a visit from an IRS criminal investigator. No prior warning is required for an investigator to visit your home or business. Criminal investigators will not ask you to make a tax payment during a visit.

Requesting Identification

If you receive a visit from someone claiming to be an IRS revenue agent or criminal investigator, you do not have to take them at their word. A representative of the IRS will always have two forms of identification on hand, and requesting credentials from anyone claiming to be from the IRS is the best way to protect yourself from scammers.

A pocket commission is the first type of credential that an actual IRS representative will present to you. This commission will include several pieces of information about the agent, including their specific authority and any responsibilities that come with their position. The second credential you can request is a Personal Identity Verification Credential (PIV), which is used by federal contractors and employees. IRS criminal investigators can show you a badge on request.

Dealing With the IRS

In most cases, the IRS will contact you to request a tax payment. If you’re ready to make a payment, you should make sure to use an approved form of payment. Wire transfer and pre-loaded debit cards cannot be used to make a tax payment.

The IRS has specific rules for how contractors and employees should interact with taxpayers. If someone contacts you and fails to follow these rules, they may not be a legitimate IRS representative. For instance, an IRS agent will never insult or act hostile when talking with you, and you will always be given the opportunity to appeal a demand for payment.

IRS representatives also won’t require a specific payment method. If the person you are talking to demands you pay by check or credit card, they aren’t from the IRS. Representatives of the agency also will not make threats, including:

  • Stating that you will be sued for not making payments.
  • Claiming you will be arrested.
  • Tell you that you will be deported.

Reporting Scams

Scammers who represent themselves as agents of the IRS are unfortunately common, which is why the government provides several solutions for you to report suspected fraud attempts. If you’ve received a phone call that you believe is a scam, you can make a report by calling the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484 or by visiting the Federal Trade Commission website and making a report using the FTC Complaint Assistant.

The IRS has also set up an email address specifically to handle reports of fraudulent electronic communications. After receiving a scam email, you can make a report to phishing@irs.gov.

 

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