Spotting the Real IRS Notice in a Sea of Scams

There was a time when you could take an IRS notification at face value. In recent years, though, it’s become increasingly difficult to distinguish fact from tax fraud.

There was a time when you could take an IRS notification at face value. In recent years, though, it's become increasingly difficult to distinguish fact from tax fraud. Scammers have become proficient, evolving with internet pervasiveness and preying upon taxpayers' inherent fear of that most notorious government institution: the Internal Revenue Service.

Make no mistake, if you're facing a tax issue, you should address it swiftly. But how do you know if you really have an IRS problem or you're simply being swindled? There are a few details to pay attention to that can keep you tax compliant and steer you away from the myriad schemes designed merely to empty your pockets.

Forms of Communication

In the event that the return you filed is riddled with issues or the IRS has assessed a debt, they will send you a notice in the mail. Scammers may attempt to contact you over the phone, through email or social messaging. They may even provide you with some of your personal information, such as your Social Security number, to bolster the illusion. Typically, these individuals will advise you to act quickly to handle your "tax problem".

Whatever you do, do not share personal information or send money to anyone who contacts you by phone or through email (no matter how convincing they sound). The IRS has a defined communication protocol regarding debts; if you aren't receiving notices via the post office, you're dealing with an imposter. Don't take the bait, no matter how convincing they appear.

Expect Intimidation

Considering that millions of dollars have been sheared from unsuspecting taxpayers over the last couple of years, it's fair to say scammers are accomplished performers. Nevertheless, it's still just an act. If you do get a call from one of these people, he or she will likely be aggressive and insistent. Don't be surprised if they attempt to intimidate you into action.

Threats of drivers' license revocation, deportation and even imprisonment are commonplace in the scammer's repertoire. They are relying on a common prejudice most taxpayers have toward the IRS, specifically the predisposition toward fear. And while a seasoned scam artist will say anything under the sun to try and get your money, they're vacant threats, nothing more.

Identity Crisis

Sometimes, you can get scammed without even knowing it. There are certain swindlers who will file a tax return on your behalf to collect an exaggerated refund. This can impair your ability to not only file your actual return, but avoid a head-on confrontation with the IRS.

If you do receive an IRS notice in the mail, don't ignore it. They may need to alert you to an issue or ask you to provide information to confirm your identity. The worst thing you can do is disregard such a request, because it will only extend the time it will take to get the problem corrected. If you make it through the thick of scam seasoned unscathed, don't let your guard down; fraudsters operate year-round.

The Real McCoy

Should you receive an authentic IRS notification, take it seriously. While ignoring a fraud issue is unwise, avoiding a tax debt can be every bit as costly. If you're unsure how to handle a tax problem, consider consulting a licensed tax professional. Protecting your finances is as much about handling your taxes responsibly as it is about dodging scams.

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