Q&A: IRS Fraud Schemes Targeting Taxpayers

The IRS releases a Dirty Dozen scams list highlighting twelve fraud schemes every year. Guess what the 1st three schemes were? Phishing, phone scams, and identity theft. All fraud schemes that involve solicitation of your personal information. While these fraud schemes aren’t new, the method of communication and contact from fraudsters has changed. The fraudsters still send mail, but now they have ramped up their contact points to include emails, websites, and text messages. Fraudsters aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so let’s be vigilant about protecting your personal information.

Q: The calls, letters, and emails appear to be legit, using the IRS name, logos, and email addresses. How would I identify that this is not a legal document from the IRS?

A: The IRS is standardized in how they contact taxpayers. While they will contact a taxpayer about an overdue tax bill or an unfiled tax return that requires collection, an audit, or criminal investigation, they will notify you by mail first of the issue and if they visit your residence, they will have two forms of official credential called a pocket commission and HSPD-12 card (standard government ID). And yes, you have the right to ask for these IDs for your safety! The following are actions that the IRS will NEVER do:

  • Initiate contact via email, phone, or letter to request personal information from a taxpayer.
  • Request PIN numbers, passwords, social security numbers, credit card information, or other similar personal identification information. Remember, the IRS sends notifications only, not requests of information.
  • Send an unsolicited tax transcript.
  • Demand immediate payment for unmet tax needs. If you have a settlement or payment arrangement that was previously set up with the IRS, only make payments to the United States Treasury using one of the methods listed at https://www.irs.gov/payments.
  • Threaten a lawsuit for unpaid taxes or unfiled tax returns.
  • Contact the immigration officers, local police, sheriff’s department, or other law enforcement  authorities to arrest you for unpaid taxes.
  • Discuss tax debts or refunds via email, text message, or social media.

Q: When I get these phone calls, I just hang up. When I get emails, I just delete them. Is there some other way I should be responding to these fraud schemes?

A: Your responses are actually perfect! On your phone, block the numbers if you can. Some wireless phone providers know our pains and have even started having these calls show up as “Fraud Risk”, “Spam Risk”, and “Telemarketer” in your phone’s caller ID. As for emails, keep deleting them and DO NOT open any attachments. These attachments could have malware on them that destroys or infiltrates your phone or computer.

Q: Now that I know what to do if this happens to me, I feel like it’s my civic duty to prevent this from happening to someone else. Who should I contact about these fraudulent communications?

A: The IRS has dedicated websites, phone numbers, and emails to fight fraud. Contact and report fraudulent activity to the following:

  • Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration – To report a phone scam or mail scam. Report the fraud to the “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page (www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml) or call 800-366-4484.
  • Federal Trade Commission – To report a phone scam. Report the scam using the “FTC Complaint Assistant” (www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov).
  • Phishing@IRS.gov – To report an unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS, or an IRS-related component like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. Forward the email and report the scam to this email address. Make sure to include the email header, name of sender, and email address of sender.