Once upon a time, you could take things at face value – particularly notices from the IRS. But these days, with advanced technology and ruthless tactics as their weapons, scammers are making it mighty difficult to separate fiction from reality. As a result, you have to be on your toes when you get any notice demanding payment; you may be facing a fraudulent tax trap.
While you certainly don't want to disregard IRS notices, it's important to ensure that what you're presented with is the genuine article. Scammers are more and more proficient every day, employing subtle nuances to sell an illusion. How do you know if you're really dealing with the IRS and not some imposter? There are several salient details that will tell the story.
Communication Red Flags
First and foremost, the IRS will not attempt to contact you by phone, email or through social media. When it comes right down to it, the IRS is old school in their correspondence and still opts to notify taxpayers via post. In the event that you get a call demanding payment, no matter how convincing the person may be, don't be fooled. IRS imposters will attempt to harass you into sending money, employing intimidation and threats of arrest if necessary. Similarly, don't respond to official-looking but definitely counterfeit emails; these are merely attempts to elicit personal information or cash.
An alarming twist to recent scam efforts includes fake notices of debt being sent through the mail. Detail-conscious fraudsters have studied IRS protocol and may duplicate a notice, right down to the number codes designated for various collection procedures. The font chosen, the official seal of the IRS, the style of language – all may be imitated to complete an impressive forgery.
There are a few critical differences between an actual IRS notice and one sent by a scammer. First, one of your rights as a taxpayer will be to contest an assessed balance; fake notices likely won't include this option. Next, a bogus letter may instruct you to use a specific payment method, such as sending in a prepaid debit card (the IRS will not make such a demand).
Assuming that you receive notification through the mail rather than over the phone, look it over carefully. If you suspect that a request for payment isn't authentic, contact the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040. You may also visit their website at IRS.gov to learn more about your notice and how to handle potential fraud. The IRS is well aware of the myriad scams flying around and they encourage taxpayers to keep them informed of any fraudulent activity you encounter.
The Real McCoy
Should your IRS notice turn out to be the real deal, don't panic. You have options for resolving any debt, regardless of the amount or what stage of collection action you're facing. You may find a tax resolution company helpful in exploring your next steps. As important as it is to avoid tax scams, it's equally important to treat a legitimate tax debt with precision and urgency – two virtues you'll find in a seasoned tax professional.