IRS Imposter Scams

Fake IRS Messages Can Come By Email, Phone or Text Message

Some brazen criminals rip off unwary taxpayers by impersonating agents of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

They’ll call and insist you have an unpaid tax bill and face arrest unless you pay up immediately. Sometimes it will be in the form of a robocall, with an automated message requesting a call back to resolve a supposed tax problem.

IRS imposter scams can come by email, phone, or text.The fake appeals can also come by regular mail, email and text. A recent twist, according to the IRS, involves scammers sending letters with the IRS masthead in “a cardboard envelope from a delivery service” making you think it’s a legitimate FedEx or UPS NextDay Express delivery.

The letter says that the recipient is being contacted regarding an “unclaimed refund,” and offers a phone number that is not the IRS’s. The taxpayer is asked to divulge personal information — “including detailed pictures of driver’s licenses,” the IRS says, “that can be used by identity thieves to try obtaining a tax refund and other sensitive financial information.”

Another version of the scam, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has noted, involves criminals sending a text about a “tax rebate” or some other tax refund or benefit.

“No matter what the text says,” the FTC warns, “it’s a scammer phishing for your information. And if you click on the link to claim ‘your refund,’ you’re exposing yourself to identity theft or malware that the scammer could install on your phone.”

Scammers also deploy phishing emails, often targeting college students, faculty and staff members with addresses ending in the domain name “.edu,” the IRS and FTC warn. The emails, with IRS logos and subject lines like “Tax Refund Payment,” link to a website that asks for personal data such as Social Security and driver’s license numbers to facilitate the “refund.”

IRS Imposter Scam Warning Signs
  • You get contacted via phone call. The IRS communicates mostly through the mail, including in cases of delinquent taxes. The agency will generally make contact by phone or in person only after a taxpayer has received multiple written notices.
  • The pretend IRS official demands immediate payment and threatens to call police and have you arrested — things the actual tax agency never does.
  • An email purporting to be from the IRS links to a website where you’re asked to provide personal and financial information to facilitate or calculate a tax refund.
  • You’re asked to pay a tax bill with a gift card, a prepaid debit card or a wire transfer. That’s a sure sign it’s a scam.
How to Protect Yourself From This Scam
    • Hang up immediately if a caller claims to be from the IRS, unless you have reason to believe you really do owe taxes, such as prior written communication from the agency. (Criminals can change a caller ID to make it appear that the call is coming from an actual IRS office.)
    • If you want to confirm your tax payment status, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.
    • Forward any unsolicited emails in which someone claims to be from the IRS or the Treasury Department to Do not click on any links or open attachments.
    • Ask for identification if you’re visited by someone claiming to be from the IRS. Actual employees carry two official credentials: a “pocket commission” card and an HSPD-12 card, a standard ID for federal workers. An IRS employee will provide, on request, a dedicated agency phone number for you to verify the information on the card.
    • Know that the IRS will never send an email or text message asking for your information.
More Resources

If you’ve received a scam IRS call, contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration immediately at 800-366-4484 or file a report online.

Adapted from an AARP article published July 27, 2023.

Watch this IRS-produced short video on “How To Report Tax Scams“.