Fake IRS Letter & Phishing Phone Call Guide | H&R Block

October 10, 2017 : Mike Slack

Thousands of U.S. citizens lose a combined total in the millions when their personal information is uncovered by tax scammers and false entities claiming to be the IRS. Scammers use a variety of methods including standard mail, phone, email, texts, and even social media to reach their victims. There are ways to identify true communications from the IRS versus that of a scammer. Let’s review the signs.

How will the IRS contact me?

The first step to prevent becoming a victim is to know how the IRS contacts taxpayers. The IRS does not initiate contact with or request personal information by fax, email, texts, or social media. If you have been reached by one of these forms of contact, do not click the message or submit a reply.

Most importantly, no matter how much you feel pressured, never provide any personal information through the above methods. Exchanging personal details will further position oneself at risk of becoming a victim.

Official IRS contact methods include:

  • A letter on IRS letterhead that includes extensive instructions about what to do if you agree or disagree about the additional tax(es) owed. Fake letters typically only demand payment.
  • A letter on IRS letterhead that requests all payments be remitted to the United States Treasury. A fake IRS letter will ask for payment addressed directly to the IRS or a specific IRS “processing center.”
  • Telephone contact typically happens after several letters have been sent to the address on file. If called, the IRS will never threaten to arrest or demand immediate payment by credit or debit card.

Which tax scams should I be aware of?

As technology advances, tax scams are becoming increasingly complex. In order to target unaware victims, scammers must constantly change tactics. As a result, 2017 has introduced new and never before seen schemes such as:

  • IRS Impersonator – Individuals are contacted via phone to verify tax return information. The scammer claims to have the taxpayers return, but needs to verify the victim’s identity to ensure that the return was “not fraudulent” thus, obtaining the victims Social Security number or bank account details. Avoid this scam by knowing that the IRS never verifies personal information over the phone or via email.
  • Identity Refund Fraud – In this case, the scammer targets the federal government by filing fraudulent income tax returns using the taxpayer’s name and Social Security number. The targeted individual doesn’t lose money directly, but they must jump through hoops to file their own return and clear the fraudulent record.
  • EFTPS – Scammers target the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) by calling and demanding an immediate tax payment through a prepaid debit card. Some go a step further claiming to be a representative of the IRS and informing the victim of two certified letters sent through the mail but returned as undeliverable. The scammer then threatens to arrest the victim unless payment is remitted. The prepaid card that payment is released to is not linked to EFTPS when, in fact, it’s entirely controlled by the scammer.At any time, if you are warned to not contact your tax preparer, an attorney, or local IRS office, you have likely encountered a scam.

Who is protecting me?

The Internal Revenue Service has partnered with representatives of the software industry, tax preparation firms (including H&R Block), payroll and state tax administrators to protect our nation’s taxpayers. This effort has also led to several resources empowering the individual to help protect themselves. Visit the IRS website for updates and important security announcements.

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Mike Slack

Mike Slack

The Tax Institute, H&R Block

Mike Slack, JD, EA, is a senior tax research analyst at The Tax Institute. Mike leads research teams focused on business and investment tax issues.