FS-2017-07, April 19, 2017
Many taxpayers have encountered individuals impersonating IRS officials – in person, over the telephone and via email. Don’t get scammed. We want you to understand how and when the IRS contacts taxpayers and help you determine whether a contact you may have received is truly from an IRS employee.
The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service.
However, there are special circumstances in which the IRS will call or come to a home or business, such as when a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill, to secure a delinquent tax return or a delinquent employment tax payment, or to tour a business as part of an audit or during criminal investigations.
Even then, taxpayers will generally first receive several letters (called “notices”) from the IRS in the mail.
Note that the IRS does not:
- Demand that you use a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. The IRS will not ask for your debit or credit card numbers over the phone.
- Demand that you pay taxes without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe. Generally, the IRS will first mail you a bill if you owe any taxes. You should also be advised of your rights as a taxpayer.
- Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law-enforcement to have you arrested for not paying. The IRS also cannot revoke your driver’s license, business licenses, or immigration status. Threats like these are common tactics scam artists use to trick victims into buying into their schemes.
If you owe taxes:
The IRS instructs taxpayers to make payments to the “United States Treasury.” The IRS provides specific guidelines on how you can make a tax payment at irs.gov/payments.
Here is what the IRS will do:
If an IRS representative visits you, he or she will always provide two forms of official credentials called a pocket commission and a HSPD-12 card. HSPD-12 is a government-wide standard for secure and reliable forms of identification for Federal employees and contractors. You have the right to see these credentials.
IRS collection employees may call or come to a home or business unannounced to collect a tax debt. They will not demand that you make an immediate payment to a source other than the U.S. Treasury.
Learn more about the IRS revenue officers’ collection work.
The IRS can assign certain cases to private debt collectors but only after giving the taxpayer and his or her representative, if one is appointed, written notice. Private collection agencies will not ask for payment on a prepaid debit card or gift card. Taxpayers can learn about the IRS payment options on irs.gov/payments. Payment by check should be payable to the U.S. Treasury and sent directly to the IRS, not the private collection agency.
Learn more about Private Debt Collectors.
IRS employees conducting audits may call taxpayers to set up appointments, but not without having first notified them by mail. After mailing an official notification of an audit, an auditor/tax examiner may call to discuss items pertaining to the audit.
Learn more about the IRS audit process.
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.
Beware of Impersonations
Scams take many shapes and forms, such as phone calls, letters and emails. Many IRS impersonators use threats to intimidate and bully people into paying a fabricated tax bill. They may even threaten to arrest or deport their would-be victim if the victim doesn’t comply.
For a comprehensive listing of recent tax scams and consumer alerts, visit Tax Scams/Consumer Alerts.
Know Who to Contact
- Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report a phone scam. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page. You can also call 800-366-4484.
- Report phone scams to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add "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 email@example.com.
- Security Summit
- IRS Taxpayer Bill of Rights
- Tax payment options
- Consumer Alerts
- Report Phishing
- Phone Scams
How to know it’s really the IRS calling or knocking on your door: Collection
Revenue officers are IRS civil enforcement employees who work cases that involve an amount owed by a taxpayer or a delinquent tax return. Their role involves education, investigation, and when necessary, appropriate enforcement.
Generally, home or business visits are unannounced because scheduling appointments for such matters would be inconsistent with their proactive and urgent nature. For example, many urgent and complex cases involve employers’ employment tax withholding requirement.
Revenue officers carry two forms of official identification. Both forms of Identification have serial numbers – and you can ask to see both.
Revenue Officer Visits
- The vast majority of collection cases begin as letters (called “notices”) sent to taxpayers because the case is unresolved. A significant number of these cases are also previously worked by the Automated Collection System – an IRS program that tries to resolve the taxpayer’s account over the phone directly with the taxpayer after a notice sent to the taxpayer was unsuccessful at resolving the situation.
- A small portion of the revenue officers’ work involves proactive outreach to employers, called Federal Tax Deposit Alerts, sent at the earliest sign that a business taxpayer is falling behind on payroll tax deposits. These are generally not preceded by a notice.
- Collection Procedures: Filing or Paying Late
- Private Debt Collection
How to know it’s really the IRS calling or knocking on your door: Audits
The IRS examines or audits tax returns to verify that what the taxpayer reported is correct. This doesn’t mean that the taxpayer has made an error or been dishonest. In fact, some examinations result in a refund to the taxpayer or acceptance of the return without change.
There are various reasons the IRS may telephone or visit a taxpayer at home during an audit, but at that point the taxpayer would be well aware of the audit.
- After mailing an initial appointment letter we may call to confirm and discuss items needed for the audit. An audit may include an interview with the taxpayer or his or her Power of Attorney, if one is appointed, and sometimes include a tour of the taxpayer’s business operation.
- Third party contacts – if while examining one taxpayer’s return, we need information from someone else, we will first issue a letter to that third party requesting the information. After that we may contact them by telephone.