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Is this REALLY the IRS?

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

Co-written by Kevin Clark

Everyday people get phishing or scam phone calls from someone impersonating an IRS official, but it may get even worse during and right after tax season. It can really help to know how to spot the difference, so you don’t find yourself in a panic or handing over valuable financial information to a scam caller. The forms of payment they request are often unretrievable and the stress from their threats can be overwhelming. We don’t want to see good people get taken advantage of so we made a list of 5 red flags that will tell you its not really the IRS contacting you:

1. The caller demands an immediate payment.

No one from the IRS will call and say you need to make a payment right at that moment “or else.” They will typically mail you a bill first and there should be options to question or appeal the amount owed if you disagree with their decision or the balance on your taxes due.

2. Threats are made to have you arrested.

The IRS will NOT threaten you with local law enforcement or immediate arrest if you do not make a payment right away. That’s just not how they operate, and scammers use threats to try to scare you into paying them before you can catch on to their tricks.

3. There is no opportunity given for an appeal before payment is requested. The IRS will give you a chance to dispute any payments owed and if the caller says that you cannot appeal or question anything, then you can feel comfortable hanging up on them immediately.

4. They ask for a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer to pay the debt. The IRS will not ask you to pay over the phone with one of these payment methods. Ever. They also will not talk you through how to purchase prepaid cards or how to wire them money at the grocery store or gas station. If the person on the line does this, they are not with the IRS.

5. You have not previously received a bill or letter from the IRS. The IRS will typically mail a letter/bill to a person that owes taxes. The letter should state how to appeal or who to contact to resolve the balance. Letter scams are still a thing though, so to be sure you can contact the IRS through the numbers listed on their official site or ask your tax preparer to look at the letter.

It can be confusing and scary to get these calls where the scammers try to intimidate you into making a payment and many people fall prey to their tricks. The best way to protect yourself is to write down the number, hang up, and report the call to the IRS at 800-366-4484. If you’re concerned after the call, please contact your tax preparer or the IRS to check that everything is okay. Be sure not to give away any information and don’t let the IRS impersonators bully you into making a payment.

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