How to Know if You Have Been Contacted by a Scammer

How to Know if You Have Been Contacted by a Scammer

Scammers are everywhere you look. Charity scams. COVID loan scams. Student or mortgage loan relief scams. And, of course, tax scams. You would be a very rare bird indeed – or Rip Van Winkle, if you haven’t encountered one of these scams.

So how do you know that the person telling you that they are from the IRS is the real deal?

Scammers are getting more sophisticated by the day but here are some general tips to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Text Messages

This one is easy. If you are contacted by text about a tax debt or requesting personal information about you then it is almost certainly a scam.

The IRS does not send out texts demanding payment or asking for such things as your social security information or passwords to any IRS accounts. Typically, these texts contain links allegedly to an IRS website or to other online tools (which are often fake websites or which contain harmful software which may be downloaded).

Do not even attempt to respond or click on any links. Instead, If you receive an unsolicited text message that appears to be from the IRS, 1) take a screenshot of the text message and 2) email the image to with the following information:

  1. Date, time and time zone they received the text message.
  2. Phone number that received the text message.

Email Messages

Often emails are scams as well though there are times that IRS agents may communicate by email after initial contact with the taxpayer. In other words, the IRS will only contact you first using regular mail (to be followed up by a phone call) or through a personal visit by an IRS agent.

If your first contact is by email then you should not respond or open any links/attachments. Again, if you receive such an email, you should report it by sending the email as an attachment to

Letters in the Mail

While it is rare that scams are perpetrated using the mail, it does happen. The IRS often contacts a taxpayer by mail so here are some telltale ways to identify the scam letter:

  1. The IRS letter does not have in the upper right corner a CP# or Ltr#. For example, a common billing notice is shown as CP504 or Ltr11. If this is missing then you should be wary of that letter.
  2. There is a demand for payment using a single form of payment. Instead, the IRS will provide numerous ways to make payment such as by EFTPS, direct debit, cash, check or money order to name a few.
  3. A request for bank account information by letter is a clear indication of a scam. If you have a refund coming to you, the IRS will either have your address already to mail it or bank information provided on your filed tax return if you requested a direct deposit.
  4. Finally, a threat of criminal action or imprisonment or a demand for immediate payment without providing any means to appeal or request an alternative to paying in full, is another clear indicator of a scam.

You can report the scam to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at

Phone Calls

As mentioned under email messages, the IRS will generally contact you first by mail before making any phone calls. Sometimes, if you have an overdue tax bill, a delinquent or unfiled tax return or have not made a require payroll tax deposit, you may get a call without first being sent a letter – though this is rare.

The IRS agent will not leave a prerecorded voicemail demanding payment or a call back regarding your tax liability. Be especially wary of any calls that threaten criminal action or a lawsuit in civil court.

Here are some indicators of a scam call:

  1. Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card or gift card.
  2. A threat to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
  3. Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
  4. Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

If you encounter such a call, do not give out any information! Hang up immediately. If you received a voicemail, do not call the number back. You can report any such phone scams to the FTC at:

In-Person Visit

IRS revenue officers, agents charged with collecting unpaid taxes, may make unannounced visits to your home or place of business to discuss any unfiled returns or unpaid taxes. Revenue agents, agents who are responsible for tax return audits, may also visit you as part of an audit. You should be contacted first by mail about unpaid taxes, unfiled returns, or a tax return audit before such a visit.

Regardless of the reason for the visit, you should ask the agent for his or her credentials or identification. IRS representatives should be able to provide you with two forms of official credentials: 1) an IRS-issued credential (sometimes called a pocket commission) and 2) a HSPD-12 card, a standard form of identification for federal employees.

If they cannot provide such identification, then you should refuse to speak with them. If the person does provide identification do not let your guard down. Be aware of any demand for immediate payment, especially if the demand is to be paid with gift cards, prepaid debit cards or other money orders; or threats of imprisonment, criminal prosecution, or a civil lawsuit.

You can report the scam to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at

In Summary – How to Avoid Tax Scams

I listed above what to watch out for. Beyond that, just use your common sense. The IRS is not going to demand payment using weird payment methods like gift cards or cryptocurrency. The IRS is not also going to threaten that you will be imprisoned if you haven’t paid your taxes. That just doesn’t happen and trust me you would know if people were being jailed by the real IRS. It would be front page news. Scammers are taking advantage of your desire to avoid trouble with the government. Don’t take the bait. If you are not sure, ask to talk to an attorney or other tax professional and see what they think. Often they will tell you it is a scam. Better to irritate someone at the IRS than find out later it was a scam when you have no chance of getting any of your money back. If you have questions, give us a call (see our contact info below).

Contact Us

I am Maine’s IRS Problem Solver. My firm helps Maine taxpayers in trouble. If you or someone you know in Southern Maine wants more information on how to resolve your unpaid taxes, please feel free to contact me directly at 207-502-7181 or by filing out my contact form. A Maine tax attorney can help you consider your options.

James D. Wade, Esq.
Law Office of James D. Wade
57 Portland Road, Unit 3
Kennebunk, ME 04043