One day in late July, Cassandra received an email from the IRS informing her that she had failed to pay her taxes.
The email threatened fee after fee for Cassandra’s mistake, totaling up to thousands of dollars. Worse, the email alluded to possible criminal charges for dodging taxes.
All Cassandra needed to do was click on a link, fill out an information form, and make a payment to the entity provided in the email. So that’s what Cassandra did – and that’s how scammers stole Cassandra’s personal information and money.
Cassandra’s story is becoming more and more common and is not limited to emails. Scammers have also taken to using text messages and direct phone calls using similar techniques and threats to extort personal information and payments from unsuspecting victims.
In 2021, scammers stole nearly $70 million from thousands of victims by impersonating the IRS. Likewise, the Better Business Bureau is constantly receiving tips on new shell companies that are just a front for scammers to steal your information and money.
It’s more important than ever to be vigilant of correspondence you receive from government agencies and those posing as legitimate government agencies.
How the IRS WILL NOT Contact You.
The IRS will not send a text message.
Beware if you receive a text message saying it came from the IRS. These texts, known as “smishing,” often contain links that will infect your phone with malware or prompt you to fill out a form that gives personal information to a hacker. The IRS does not use text messages to discuss personal tax issues, such as those involving bills or refunds.
If you receive such a text, take a screenshot of the message and include the screenshot in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information:
- Date, time, and time zone you received the text message.
- Phone number that received the text message.
DO NOT click links or open attachments in unsolicited, suspicious, or unexpected text messages.
The IRS will not send an email asking for personal or financial information.
Most contacts with the IRS are initiated through traditional mail. The IRS does not initiate contact by email to request personal or financial information. Do not respond to any emails that contain requests for personal or financial information. Also, do not click on the links in any suspicious emails. The IRS urges you to report fraudulent emails to email@example.com. The Report Phishing and Online Scams page at IRS.gov provides complete details.
How the IRS WILL contact you:
The IRS will usually reach out to taxpayers by mail or phone. They will not leave pre-recorded, threatening, or urgent messages.
They will not:
- Demand immediate payment through pre-paid or gift cards.
- Threaten arrest or send law enforcement to your home.
- Demand payment without allowing the taxpayer to question or appeal the issue.
- Ask for credit card or bank information over the phone.
If you do owe a tax bill, payments should only be made payable to the U.S. Treasury, and checks should never be made payable to third parties. They will never ask for gift cards.
In-Person Visits from the IRS
At times, IRS revenue agents will visit an individual, business, or non-profit that is being audited to discuss taxes owed or tax returns due. They might also visit a business that has fallen behind on withheld employment taxes. While an agent might show up unannounced, all visits will have been preceded by a mailed notification regarding the issue. 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.
Helpful information on resolving tax issues
If you have a tax bill, the IRS encourages people to visit a special section on IRS.gov focused on payment options.
The sheer number of scams and scammers out there means you need to be vigilant for traps – it’s not just a law enforcement problem anymore.
Stay up-to-date on the latest criminal trends, double-check all contacts and requests, and keep records of your correspondence from the IRS. Following these common-sense steps can save you a lot of headaches in the future.