Impersonating the Internal Revenue Service is big business for identity thieves. These phishing scams often combine fear of the agency with urgency (and threats), and those who fall for them can soon find their information or money stolen. That’s why the IRS this week highlighted how they communicate with taxpayers.
Generally, the IRS provides tips for figuring out if a phone call, letter, email, or text message is a phishing scam. Those signs can be specific to the particular scam or common amongst them all, and learning to spot phishing is one of the best ways to protect your information. Another key component is knowing how government agencies like the IRS actually contact Americans.
How will the IRS contact me?
Typically, the first communication sent by the IRS is a letter. There are myriad tax-related reasons someone might receive a letter from the IRS, and some letters will require follow-up by an agent: usually a phone call to “confirm an appointment or to discuss items for a scheduled audit.”
However, there are times when an IRS representative needs to show up in-person to talk to an individual taxpayer or business owner. According to the IRS, these “unannounced visits” are primarily “to discuss taxes owed, delinquent tax returns, or a business falling behind on payroll tax deposits.” And they may even ask the taxpayer to pay back taxes (more on that in a moment).
As for digital communication, IRS representatives may occasionally email taxpayers—but the agency stresses that’s not how they “normally initiate contact.”
How won’t the IRS contact me?
The IRS does not send texts or social media messages to taxpayers, period. That means any private messages you receive on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok are not from the IRS.
What should I do if I think an IRS message is a phishing scam?
If you suspect an IRS letter is fake, you can check it against the list of legitimate letters and notices on IRS.gov. The “Understanding Your IRS Notice or Letter” page features a search tool that contains most letters and notices issued by the agency—some of which even have sample PDFs. When a letter doesn’t appear in the search, the IRS suggests calling 800.829.1040 to speak with an IRS representative.
An in-person visit from the IRS may sound stressful, but there are a couple ways you can determine if the person on your doorstep is the genuine article:
- IRS representatives can always provide two forms of official credentials: a pocket commission and a Personal Identity Verification Credential
- Payment will never be requested to a source other than the U.S. Treasury
Finally, the IRS stresses that you simply should not reply to emails and social media messages, even if they look and sound official. Remember, phishing scams want your personal information, and they’re good at getting tricking people into providing it once they establish a back-and-forth conversation.
(While not explicitly included in this press release, it’s also important to remember to never reflexively click on attachments and hyperlinks in digital messages. These can contain malware or take you to a fake website that is built to steal your information.)
To read the full press release, check out the source link below.
Source: IRS Tax Tip 2021-124