How to Spot an IRS Impersonation Scheme

Consumers should protect themselves against online identity theft and other scams that increase after the filing season. Such scams may appropriate the name, logo or other appurtenances of the IRS or U.S. Department of the Treasury to mislead taxpayers into believing that the scam is legitimate.

Scams involving the impersonation of the IRS usually take the form of e-mails, tweets or other online messages to consumers. Scammers may also use phones and faxes to reach intended victims. Some scammers set up phony Web sites.

The IRS does not send taxpayers unsolicited e-mails about their tax accounts, tax situations, or personal tax issues. If you receive such an e-mail, most likely it’s a scam.

Object of Scams

Most scams impersonating the IRS are identity theft schemes. In this type of scam, the scammer poses as a legitimate institution to trick consumers into revealing personal and financial information — such as passwords and Social Security, PIN, bank account and credit card numbers — that can be used to gain access to and steal their bank, credit card or other financial accounts. Attempted identity theft scams that take place via e-mail are known as phishing. Other scams may try to persuade a victim to advance sums of money in the hope of realizing a larger gain. These are known as advance fee scams.

Who Is Targeted

Anyone with a computer, phone or fax machine could receive a scam message or unknowingly visit a phony or misleading Web site. Individuals, businesses, educators, charities and others have been targeted by e-mails that claim to come from the IRS or Treasury Department. Scam e-mails are generally sent out in bulk, based on e-mail addresses (URLs), similar to spam

What to Do

Taxpayers who receive a suspicious e-mail claiming to come from the IRS should take the following steps:

  • Avoid opening any attachments to the e-mail, in case they contain malicious code that will infect your computer.
  • Avoid clicking on any links, for the same reason. Alternatively, the links may connect to a phony IRS Web site that appears authentic and then prompts for personal identifiers, bank or credit card account numbers or PINs.
  • Visit the IRS Web site, www.irs.gov, to use the “Where’s My Refund?” interactive tool to determine if they are really getting a refund, rather than responding to the e-mail message.
  • Forward the suspicious e-mail or URL address to the IRS mailbox phishing@irs.gov, then delete the e-mail from their inbox.

Consumers who believe they are or may be victims of identity theft or other scams may visit the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Web site for identity theft, www.onguardonline.gov, for guidance in what to do. The IRS is one of the sponsors of this site.

More information on IRS-impersonation scams, identity theft and suspicious e-mail is available on IRS.gov.