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Is It Really the IRS?

Keyboard with the enter button changed to say IRS ScamWe’ve all heard it before.  That voice on the other end of the line that states that she or he is from the United States Treasury Department and you have an unpaid debt that needs to be settled, or else …  With the reduction in their workforce, the Internal Revenue Service has been authorized to utilize private debt collectors.  This has further complicated authenticity protocols for the taxpayer.  As tax season comes to a close, the increase in scams is well documented.  It is important to know what the Internal Revenue Service will and will not do if you do in fact owe a debt.

The first thing to note is that the Internal Revenue Service does not initiate contact with taxpayers through email, text messages or social media.  So even if you receive a communication of this nature that bares the IRS logo or other “identifying” marks, you should question its authenticity.  Very rarely in fact will the Internal Revenue Service initiate first contact by telephone or in person.  These cases are usually with the taxpayer already is aware of an overdue tax debt, an extremely late filed return or employment tax payments, or for a review of the work space during an audit.  And even in these cases, the taxpayer will have been notified with an IRS Notice through regular mail via the United States Postal Service.  When the IRS does make initial contact, they will not demand any immediate form of payment, and especially not through the use of a prepaid debt card, gift card or wire transfer.  The IRS will also not threaten to bring in police, immigration or other enforcement agencies and place you under arrest for failure to pay.  It cannot revoke your licenses or immigration status.  These are all tactics used by scammers to create chaos and bring stress into the conversation in the hopes that you will give them what they want without question.  Furthermore, the IRS will always require you to send payment made out to the “United States Treasury” or utilize a payment method through the IRS website at www.irs.gov.  Remember that you never want to give an unauthenticated person any of your personal or financial information.

If an IRS agent does visit you, the agent will provide two forms of credentials.  If these are not presented to you, you have the right to ask to see them before answering any questions.  You will also be provided with a phone number that you can call to verify the credentials.  If you feel that the agent’s identity is in question, you can call the RIS yourself instead of using the phone number provided.  If the collector is a private debt collector, it is important to know which debts go to these parties.  Private collection accounts are only accounts that the IRS is no longer actively working on collecting. In many cases, this means that the debt is old and not created from any new filings.  The IRS will also notify you in writing that they intend to turn over the debt to the private debt collector prior to doing so.  A second, separate letter will be received by the taxpayer once the transfer has occurred.  Private debt collectors must also follow the same standards of identification, and process as the IRS itself.  All payments must still be made out to the United States Treasury and should go directly to the IRS and not the private debt collector. 

If your account is under audit, you will receive a notification by mail first before any additional contact is made.  If the auditor wishes to come to your home or place of business, a call or other communication will have been made prior to arrange a date and time. As always, a notification of audit will have been sent via United States Postal Services prior to a telephone call.

As a taxpayer, it is your right to appeal or question the debt stated as owed on any notice.  You have a certain set of rights as a taxpayer, and the IRS must allow proper time for you to research and be heard.  Each notice sent by the IRS will contain a deadline with which you must contact them to submit your questions or appeal.  Often times, the IRS itself will extend their own response deadline after receiving information from the taxpayer in which to review and make further determinations.  You also have the right to have professional representation when going in front of the IRS.  Because of the complexity of tax law, it is advisable to seek out a tax professional or tax lawyer to aid you. 

As technology improves, scammers are getting increasingly sophisticated in their ability to mimic the IRS and other taxing authorities.  Phone number identifications can be altered to look like they come from IRS call centers.  Identification cards can look authentic and not be.  The safest way to ensure that you are not the victim of scammers is to remember that the IRS will never request immediate payment through prepaid debit cards, gift cards, or wire transfers.  All payments must be made out to the United States Treasury or through the IRS website – no credit card or debit card information will be requested over the phone or through email.  No other law-enforcement agency will be called to arrest or deport you by the IRS.  And the IRS cannot recall your licenses or immigration status.  You have the right to question or appeal any debt owed to the IRS.  And in all cases, you have the right to third party representation before the IRS or other taxing authority.

If you feel that you have been contacted by a scammer, or have been the victim of a scam, you can report it to the IRS.  This can be done by forwarding emails to phishing@irs.gov, informing the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484, and/or filing a Form 14039, Identity theft Affidavit.

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