How to Spot an IRS Scam

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Getting in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service is scary enough. Considering the complexities of tax filing, it’s easy to fill out something incorrectly and throw the whole thing off-balance. Scammers play on this fear and use it to trick unsuspecting taxpayers out of thousands of dollars. Worst of all, these operations are usually overseas, safe from the reach of state or federal laws. Fortunately, there are several red flags that will give these criminals away.

Fishy Phone Calls

IRS scammers will always contact you by phone, requesting that you speak with them immediately to “resolve the issue.” They’ll leave a number to call if you don’t pick up. This is the first tell-tale sign of something fishy. According to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, “Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail.”

In short, a call from the “IRS” is a call from some unscrupulous individual. Breathe a sigh of relief and just hang up.


The IRS can be intimidating, but scammers take it one step further. As fear is their greatest weapon, they’ll usually tell you it’s “too late” to resolve the alleged tax issue, and that immediate payment must made. The “agent” will threaten to send your case to court, and may even say you’ll be arrested within hours.

This is beyond silly, but thousands of people fall for it every year. To make matters worse, the scammers may follow up by posing as law enforcement, or some other authority figure, attempting to add credibility to their threats. Again, these are bogus and should be treated as such.


Although the IRS does accept payments by credit card or electronic means, you can only do this through their website, by mail, or by contacting them directly. Scammers will demand immediate payment when they contact you.

It’s possible to dispute payments with your credit card company or bank if you get conned; however, criminals get around this by asking you to purchase prepaid gift cards from companies such as MasterCard, Visa, or American Express. These transactions are impossible to trace or recover, since the cards aren’t assigned to any particular person. Consequently, victims have no recourse and are forced to take the loss.

Fighting Back

Although some progress has been made, there’s no way to make these scam operations disappear entirely; however, it’s a good idea to advise the government if you’re targeted. Simply contact the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484. Alternately, you can report fraud on the TIGTA website.

Scams are a harsh reality. While the vast majority of people are wise to such operations, criminals always come up with new ways to trick people. In these situations, it’s best to trust your common sense. After all, you can always contact the organization in question to confirm the legitimacy of a potential scammer’s claims.

For more information on this and other tax matters, consult the IRS or a qualified tax professional.

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