masthead banner
Online Access

IRS Imposters Among the “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams


The deadline to file your federal taxes is coming up, and the bad guys pretending to be the IRS are popping back up as well. Being contacted by the IRS is probably one of the scariest things most people can think of, whether it be for an audit or collections. The truth is, it shouldn’t be scary at all. You have rights, and the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) has strict guidelines they must follow. However, scammers have taken advantage of that fear to trick people out of millions of dollars. Here are some things to know to avoid scams.


Here's the bad news about any unexpected good news you receive in an e-mail from the Internal Revenue Service: It's probably bogus. For example, the IRS will not contact you via e-mail, out of the blue, about a refund you didn't know you had coming. But, yet, people fall for this scam again and again. Some have received e-mails--with convincing IRS logos--that display a refund amount and a link you must click on to get the refund.


The link leads to a mock-IRS Web page form that requires financial information, such as a Social Security and bank account number, user ID, password, mother's maiden name, and the like. Victims enter this information, press "submit," and Presto! Another identity thief now has the means to make a bank balance disappear. The bogus IRS e-mail is an example of "phishing," which can lead to identity theft. It occurs when scammers use an authentic-looking e-mail to trick recipients into supplying personal financial data.


Spotting the fake

If the correspondence doesn’t come in the mail, it’s probably fake. Unless you’ve committed serious tax fraud—in which case, you’ve probably committed a lot of other crimes—the IRS will contact you by mail. After that, they may call or start knocking on doors. If the IRS does call, it will be to set up a meeting at an IRS office. If an IRS agent contacts you in person, they’re required to present you two forms of ID: their official IRS Pocket Commission and an HSPD-12 card. They are also required to allow you to call the IRS to verify their identity.

Don't take the bait—it's expensive


Although phishing accounts for only a fraction of the Internet fraud committed each year, its sting goes deep. We offer a few clues that an e-mail may be from an IRS imposter:

* Tortured English: Most phishing e-mails traced by the IRS originate outside the United States. Look for grammar and spelling mistakes or unusual words and sentence structures.

* No forewarning: The IRS does not make initial contact with taxpayers via e-mail. Agents do correspond via e-mail, such as during some audit situations, but that doesn't happen unless you give provide them with your e-mail address first.

* Your gut reaction: If it sounds too good to be true—it probably is.


Phishers exploit charity donors


Phishers also may pose as charitable organizations. Finding a list of a charity's donors isn't difficult, and criminals use the organization's identity to go phishing.

For example, they send e-mails telling donors that the charity has calculated the tax-deductible amount of their donations. Donors are asked to supply Social Security numbers or other personal data to retrieve the documentation they'll need to claim the tax deductions.


Threats are fake

The IRS works for the Department of Treasury. They deal exclusively with the taxes of the American people, be it collecting or refunding or auditing, and any associated enforcement. That is it. If a person claiming to work for the IRS is threatening your immigration status, record the number or email address and report them. Also, the IRS will not show up and arrest you, or have local law enforcement arrest you, without a formal process. They have a strict system of contact and an appeals process before any of that occurs. The IRS only deals with tax issues; immigration status is outside of their jurisdiction

Don't guess—ask the experts


The best thing to do if you're unsure whether an e-mail regarding taxes is legitimate is to check at, call your local IRS office, or forward the email to Not only can you find the truth there—you may alert the IRS to a criminal who can be shut down before scamming another victim.


No matter what, don’t panic and jump to what appears to be a fast solution. There are few things the federal government does quickly. Someone claiming to be from the IRS and demanding immediate reaction on your part should be seen as suspect.

Visit our security page for more information on how to keep your accounts safe.

« Return to "Blog"