Will the IRS call you? Probably not. The first point of contact from the IRS is almost always through regular mail sent by the United States Postal Service. If you receive unsolicited outreach via call or text from someone claiming to be with the agency, you’re safe to assume it’s a scam.
“Your federal return was rejected — but don’t worry, I’m with the IRS, and I can help fix the problem. I just need your Social Security number to get started."
If you've ever received a text or phone call like this, it was certainly a scammer on the other end of the line.
This time of year, when taxpayers are filing their returns and anticipating refunds, scammers see an opportunity to pose as agents from the IRS.
They may be looking to use tax season as an excuse to steal your personal information, like your Social Security number. Other times, they’re attempting to trick you into sending them money directly for “debt you owe.”
How common are these imposter scams? It's difficult to say exactly, but according to the IRS, last year, tax industry experts reported more than 8 million leads for suspicious activity, including IRS scams and phishing attacks.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center also received thousands of government impersonation fraud reports in 2022, which led to over $240 million in losses.
The tax filing deadline for most Americans is on April 18. Until then, be on the lookout for red flags — and try these tips from our identity specialists to stay safe.
Does the IRS ever call you? How to identify and avoid IRS impersonation scams
First things first: know that any call or text from someone claiming to be from the IRS is a scam.
“The IRS or Social Security office does not typically call people, unless you have requested a call from them — and usually not even then,” says Patricia Krentz, Restoration Specialist at Allstate Identity Protection. “If there is a problem with your tax return, the IRS will send you a letter.”
Problem is, these phone scams can be quite convincing. Fraudsters often spoof a phone number, meaning that “IRS,” “Internal Revenue Service,” or another government agency may actually show up on your caller ID.
IRS impersonators may also reach out in the following ways:
Text message: The FTC found that in 2022, texting was the most popular method of contact for imposter scams. Scam texts can contain a clickable link, making them particularly dangerous. The link may lead to a malicious site that infects your device with malware or spyware. These bogus texts may also include a phony phone number that instructs you to call "the IRS" regarding an issue with your tax return. In reality, calling the number will lead you straight to a scammer.
Email: Phishing emails can also harbor links to malicious sites or attachments. In one common email scam, an IRS impersonator sends the victim a fake “tax transcript” or “tax receipt,” prompting them to keep the files for their records but it's actually a piece of malware designed to spread through your network. Emails can be particularly convincing because scammers often fabricate official-looking email addresses and signatures.
Door-to-door: One of the more traditional scamming tactics, a fraudster may pretend to be a revenue agent knocking on your door to collect overdue taxes. If a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill or an unfiled (or delinquent) tax return, there is a chance that a revenue officer with the IRS would follow up in person. However, that would only happen after multiple letters — also known as “notices” — have been sent by mail. Legitimate revenue officers carry two forms of identification: IRS-issued credentials (also called a pocket commission) and an HSPD-12 card (click here to view a visual), so be sure to ask for identification should an agent come to your door.
Snail mail: When the IRS needs to communicate with taxpayers, they send a letter via USPS. But scammers can use snail mail, too. So how do you distinguish between a real letter and a fake? ”You can typically find a sample letter from that agency on the IRS website,” explains Krentz. “Compare the sample letter to the one you received to verify its authenticity before taking any action; the sample letter should be identical to the one you received with the exception of your information that has been added.”
Social media: In recent years, IRS scams have started infiltrating social media platforms. In some cases, a fraudster may impersonate an internal revenue officer on social media — messaging the victim with phishing links and requests for personally identifiable information. They may say they’ve tried contacting the victim through other channels with no success.
Red flags of an IRS scam
No matter the method of contact, these are the red flags of IRS imposter scams:
Unsolicited outreach by phone, email, or social media: Remember that the IRS typically initiates contact with taxpayers by snail mail. “Assume any other outreach is a scam and do not engage,” says Krentz.
Urgency and threats: In one common ploy, imposters bait a victim with a tax debt scam call, in which they pretend to be an IRS employee calling to collect delinquent taxes. They may use scare tactics like threatening jail time or deportation if the fee isn’t paid immediately. Avoid being persuaded by scare tactics like these.
Demands for risky forms of payment: Scammers typically require fees to be paid by wire, prepaid gift card, prepaid debit card, or through a peer-to-peer payment app like Venmo or Zelle. Know that the IRS will never ask for payment in this way.
Not sure if you owe taxes?
Don’t take an IRS imposter’s word for it. Instead, you should contact the IRS directly to inquire. Here are two ways to do so:
Head to irs.gov/payments/your-online-account. The IRS provides instructions for setting up an online account if you don't already have one
Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. Keep in mind that it may be difficult to reach a representative while tax season is in full swing
What to do if you’ve been scammed by an IRS impersonator
Government imposter scams are among the top causes of fraud every year. If you think you’ve fallen victim, what should you do next?
If you are an Allstate Identity Protection member, our identity specialists are on call 24/7 to help guide you through next steps.
If you have spotted a scam and have not engaged, consider reporting it to help protect others. Here’s how:
File a report with the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration
Take a screenshot of a scam text or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org with the date, time, and time zone in which you received the text, along with your phone number. Do not reply or click on any links