Understanding how the IRS contacts taxpayers; Avoiding scams and how to know it’s really the IRS reaching out

FS-2022-33, July 2022

With continuing phone and in-person scams taking place across the country, the IRS wants to help taxpayers understand how and why agency representatives may contact taxpayers.

In most instances, the IRS sends a letter or written notice to a taxpayer in advance, but not always. Depending on the situation, IRS employees may first call or visit with a taxpayer.

Here’s how taxpayers can know if a person calling or visiting their home or place of business is a legitimate IRS employee or an imposter. There are special instances where an IRS revenue officer or revenue agent may visit a home or business related to an unpaid tax bill or an audit; the IRS urges people with tax issues to understand the circumstances around these visits and also help protect themselves against imposters.

Text messages: Frequently a scam

The IRS does not send text messages including shortened links, asking the taxpayer to verify some bit of personal information. These fraudulent messages often contain bogus links claiming to be IRS websites or other online tools. Other than IRS Secure Access, the IRS does not use text messages to discuss personal tax issues, such as those involving bills or refunds.

If a taxpayer receives an unsolicited SMS/text that appears to be from either the IRS or a program closely linked to the IRS, the taxpayer should take a screenshot of the text message and include the screenshot in an email to phishing@irs.gov with the following information:

  • Date, time and time zone they received the text message.
  • Phone number that received the text message.

The IRS reminds everyone NOT to click links or open attachments in unsolicited, suspicious or unexpected text messages whether from the IRS, state tax agencies or others in the tax community.

Email: Many tax scams involve email

The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail. If a taxpayer receives an unsolicited fraudulent email that appears to be from either the IRS or a program closely linked to the IRS, report it by sending the email as an attachment to phishing@irs.gov. The Report Phishing and Online Scams page at IRS.gov provides complete details.

Mail and phone contacts are first steps with a tax issue

Taxpayers will generally first receive several letters from the IRS in the mail before receiving a phone call. However, there are circumstances when the IRS will call, including when a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill, a delinquent or unfiled tax return or has not made an employment tax deposit.

The IRS does not leave pre-recorded, urgent or threatening voice messages. Additionally, the IRS (and its authorized private collection agencies) will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card or gift card. The IRS does not use these methods for tax payments.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

All tax payments should only be made payable to the U.S. Treasury and checks should never be made payable to third parties. For anyone who doesn’t owe taxes and has no reason to think they do: Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately. For more information, see IRS warning: Scammers work year-round; stay vigilant.

In-person visits: What to know

IRS revenue officers generally make unannounced visits to a taxpayer’s home or place of business to discuss taxes owed or tax returns due. Keep in mind this important point: Taxpayers would have first been notified by mail of their balance due or missing return. A limited exception involves revenue officer contacts while working a small number of “alert” cases, designed to help businesses from falling behind on withheld employment taxes before a balance due notice is created or mailed. Revenue officers are IRS civil enforcement employees whose role involves education, investigation and when necessary, appropriate enforcement steps to collect a tax debt. A revenue officer will help a taxpayer understand their tax obligations as well as the consequences for not meeting the obligations.

IRS revenue agents will at times visit an individual, business or non-profit who is being audited. That taxpayer would have first been notified by mail about the audit and set an agreed-upon appointment time with the revenue agent. Also, after mailing an initial appointment letter to a taxpayer, an auditor may call to confirm and discuss items pertaining to the scheduled audit appointment.

When visited by someone from the IRS, the taxpayer should always ask for credentials or identification. IRS representatives can always provide two forms of official credentials: IRS-issued credentials (also called a pocket commission) and a HSPD-12 card. The HSPD-12 card is a governmentwide standard form of identification for federal employees.

For more information, visit How to Know if it’s Really the IRS Calling or Knocking on Your Door on IRS.gov, and the IRS Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Helpful information on resolving tax issues

The IRS reminds individuals, businesses and non-profits with outstanding tax issues that there are a number of easy ways to get assistance and help them meet their tax obligations. The IRS encourages people to visit a special section on IRS.gov focused on payment options. These include paying taxes through an Online Account with IRS Direct Pay or paying by debit card, credit card or digital wallet. The IRS has options for people who can’t pay their taxes, including applying for a payment plan on IRS.gov. Recently the IRS announced expanded voice bot options to help eligible taxpayers easily verify their identity to set up or modify a payment plan while avoiding long wait times.

Remember that the IRS will not:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
  • Demand a taxpayer pay taxes without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say they owe. Taxpayers should also be advised of their rights as a taxpayer.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law-enforcement to have taxpayers arrested for not paying. The IRS also cannot revoke a driver’s license, business license or immigration status. Threats like these are common tactics scam artists use to trick victims into buying into their schemes.

Taxpayers who have filed a petition with the U.S. Tax Court may receive a call from an Appeals officer to discuss their tax dispute and options for resolution. During the call, the Appeals officer will provide their name, their badge number and their contact information including their phone number, e-fax, and e-mail address. The Appeals Officer will also know the docket number, as well as specifics regarding the case.

Appeals employees will never ask for credit card or banking information. If an Appeals officer cannot reach a taxpayer by phone, they may leave a general voicemail message. When an Appeals employee leaves a voicemail, they will include self-identifying information such as their name, title, badge number, and contact information.

Also, during this call, Appeals employees may ask taxpayers to submit additional documentation regarding their petition directly to the Independent Office of Appeals via mail, fax, or to an email address ending with @irs.gov.

Also note, taxpayers can contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service, which is an independent organization within the IRS that helps taxpayers and protects taxpayers’ rights. They can offer taxpayers help if their tax problem is causing a financial difficulty, they’ve tried and been unable to resolve the issue with the IRS, or they believe an IRS system, process, or procedure just isn’t working as it should. Visit Taxpayer Advocate Service or call 877-777-4778 for more information.