In recent years, thousands of people have lost millions of dollars and their personal information to tax scams and fake IRS communication. Scammers use the regular mail, telephone, fax or email to set up their victims. This page looks at the different scams affecting individuals, businesses, and tax professionals and what do if you if you spot a tax scam.
REMEMBER: The IRS doesn't initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information. In addition, IRS does not threaten taxpayers with lawsuits, imprisonment or other enforcement action. Recognizing these telltale signs of a phishing or tax scam could save you from becoming a victim. See also: How to know it’s really the IRS calling or knocking on your door
Scams Targeting Tax Professionals
Increasingly, tax professionals are being targeted by identity thieves. These criminals – many of them sophisticated, organized syndicates - are redoubling their efforts to gather personal data to file fraudulent federal and state income tax returns. The Security Summit has a campaign aimed at increasing awareness among tax professionals: Protect Your Clients; Protect Yourself.
Recent scams targeting the tax professional community include:
- Tax Professionals Warned of e-Services Scam.
- Tax Professionals Warned of New Scam to “Unlock” Tax Software Accounts.
- A phishing scheme mimicking software providers targets tax professionals.
- Criminals target tax professionals to steal data such as PTINs, EFINs or e-Service passwords.
- Bogus email asks tax professionals to update their IRS e-services portal information and Electronic Filing Identification Numbers (EFINs).
Tax professionals should review Publication 4557, Safeguarding Taxpayer Data, A Guide for Your Business, which provides a checklist to help safeguard taxpayer information and enhance office security.
Scams Targeting Taxpayers
IRS-Impersonation Telephone Scams
An aggressive and sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, has been making the rounds throughout the country. Callers claim to be employees of the IRS, using fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. They may know a lot about their targets, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.
Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. Victims may be threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting. Or, victims may be told they have a refund due to try to trick them into sharing private information. If the phone isn't answered, the scammers often leave an “urgent” callback request.
Some con artists have used video relay services (VRS) to try to scam deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Taxpayers are urged not trust calls just because they are made through VRS, as interpreters don’t screen calls for validity. For more details see the IRS YouTube video: Tax Scams via Video Relay Service.
Con artists often approach victims with Limited English Proficiency in their native language, threaten them with deportation, police arrest and license revocation, among other things. IRS urges all taxpayers caution before paying unexpected tax bills. Please see: IRS Alerts Taxpayers with Limited English Proficiency of Ongoing Phone Scams. Note that the IRS will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail you a bill if you owe any taxes.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
- Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
Soliciting Form W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals.
The IRS has established a process that will allow businesses and payroll service providers to quickly report any data losses related to the W-2 scam currently making the rounds. See details at Form W2/SSN Data Theft: Information for Businesses and Payroll Service Providers. If notified in time, the IRS can take steps to prevent employees from being victimized by identity thieves filing fraudulent returns in their names. There also is information about how to report receiving the scam email.
Employers and tax professionals should notify states of any disclosures of W-2s or other identity information by emailing StateAlert@taxadmin.org.
As a reminder, tax professionals who experience a data breach also should quickly report the incident to the IRS. See details at Data Theft Information for Tax Professionals.
- IRS, States and Tax Industry Renew Alert about Form W-2 Scam Targeting Payroll, Human Resource Departments
- IRS Alerts Payroll and HR Professionals to Phishing Scheme Involving W-2s
Surge in Email, Phishing and Malware Schemes
When identity theft takes place over the web (email), it is called phishing. The IRS saw an approximate 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents in the 2016 tax season.
The IRS has issued several alerts about the fraudulent use of the IRS name or logo by scammers
trying to gain access to consumers’ financial information to steal their identity and assets.
Scam emails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry, including tax software companies. These phishing schemes may seek information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts and verifying PIN information.
Variations of these scams can be seen via text messages. The IRS is aware of email phishing scams that include links to bogus web sites intended to mirror the official IRS web site. These emails contain the direction “you are to update your IRS e-file immediately.” The emails mention USA.gov and IRSgov (without a dot between "IRS" and "gov"), though not IRS.gov (with a dot). These emails are not from the IRS.
The sites may ask for information used to file false tax returns or they may carry malware, which can infect computers and allow criminals to access your files or track your keystrokes to gain information.
For more details, see:
- IRS Warns Seniors to Beware of Calls by Criminals Impersonating the IRS
- Phishing Remains on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for the 2017 Filing Season
- Consumers Warned of New Surge in IRS Email Schemes during 2016 Tax Season; Tax Industry Also Targeted
- IRS warns taxpayers of a phishing scam targeting Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia residents where the email scammers are citing tax fraud and trying to trick victims into verifying “the last four digits of their social security number”
Unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS, or from a related component such as EFTPS, should be reported to the IRS at email@example.com.
For more information, visit the IRS's Report Phishing web page.
Tax Refund Scam Artists Posing as Taxpayer Advocacy Panel
Some taxpayers may are receive emails that appear to be from the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP) about a tax refund. These emails are a phishing scam, where unsolicited emails try to trick victims into providing personal and financial information. Do not respond or click any link. If you receive this scam, please forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org and note that it seems to be a scam email phishing for your information.;
TAP is a volunteer board that advises the IRS on systemic issues affecting taxpayers. It never requests, and does not have access to, any taxpayer’s personal and financial information.
Additional Recent Tax Scams
FBI Themed Ransomware Scam
Last-Minute Email Scams
Fictitious “Federal Student Tax” scam targeting students and parents and demanding payment.
- See: IRS Warns of Back-to-School Scams; Encourages Students, Parents, Schools to Stay Alert
- See: IRS Warns of Latest Scam Variation Involving Bogus “Federal Student Tax”
Automated calls requesting tax payments in the form of iTunes or other gift cards.
- See: IRS Warns Taxpayers of Summer Surge in Automated Phone Scam Calls; Requests for Fake Tax Payments Using iTunes Gift Cards
Pretending to be from the tax preparation industry.
- See: Consumers Warned of New Surge in IRS E-mail Schemes during 2016 Tax Season; Tax Industry Also Targeted
How to Report Tax-Related Schemes, Scams, Identity Theft and Fraud
To report tax-related illegal activities, refer to our chart explaining the types of activity and the appropriate forms or other methods to use. You should also report instances of IRS-related phishing attempts and fraud to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.
Additional Scam-Related Information:
- Security Summit - Learn more about how the IRS, representatives of the software industry, tax preparation firms, payroll and tax financial product processors and state tax administrators are working together to combat identity theft and refund fraud.
- Taxes. Security. Together. We all have a role to play in protecting your data
- IRS Security Awareness Tax Tips
- Tax Scams — How to Report Them
- Criminal Investigation's Tax Fraud Alerts
- State ID Theft Resources - State information on what to do if you or your employees are victims of identity theft.
- IRS Dirty Dozen – The annually compiled list enumerates a variety of common scams that taxpayers may encounter.
IRS YouTube Videos on Tax Scams:
- Tax Scams: English | Spanish | ASL
- Phishing-Malware: English | Spanish | ASL
- Tax Scams via Video Relay Service ASL