How to Know if it’s Really the IRS

The IRS wants you to understand how and when the IRS contacts taxpayers, and help you determine whether a contact you may have received is truly from an IRS employee.

The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service.

However, there are circumstances in which the IRS will call or come to a home or business. These include when a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill, a delinquent (unfiled) tax return or has not made an employment tax deposit. An IRS employee may also view assets or tour a business as part of a collection investigation, an audit, or an ongoing criminal investigation.

Even then, taxpayers will generally first receive several notices and letters from the IRS in the mail.

The IRS examines or audits tax returns to verify that what the taxpayer reported is correct. Audits are conducted by Revenue Agents. Audits are either by mail or through an in-person interview to review taxpayer records. The interview may be at an IRS office (office audit) or at the taxpayer's place of business, or accountant's office (field audit).

  • IRS employees conducting audits may call taxpayers, but not without having first attempted to notify them by mail. 
  • After mailing an official notification of an audit, an auditor/tax examiner may call to discuss items pertaining to the audit. 
  • A Revenue agent conducts field audits and will make contact via mail or phone prior to any visit, except in unique, specific circumstances.
  • An audit will include an interview with the taxpayer or his/her power of attorney, if one is appointed, and often include a tour of the taxpayer's business operation.
  • Third party contacts – if while examining a taxpayer's return, the IRS needs information from someone else, they will issue a letter to the third party requesting the information. After that the IRS may contact them by phone. Alternatively, we may issue a summons to obtain the information from the third party. The issuance of a summons is normally done via mail however, at times, it may be delivered in person.

Revenue agents carry two forms of official identification, IRS-issued credentials (also called a pocket commission) and a HSPD-12 card. The HSPD-12 card is a governmentwide standard form of identification for federal employees. Both forms of identification have serial numbers and photos of the employee – and you can ask to see both. When at a home or place of business, the revenue agent can also provide an additional method to verify their identification upon request.

Fuel Compliance Officers and Fuel Compliance Agents conduct unscheduled fuel inspections of entities that are considered a pervasively regulated industry site. Pervasively regulated industry sites include refineries, terminals, wholesalers, retailers, end-users and any other location where taxable fuel is produced or stored. 

IRS employees will visit the business without notification to the taxpayer.

The inspection will include an interview and tour of taxpayer’s business operation.

Fuel Compliance Officers and Agents always carry official credentials with a serial number and their photo. These employees are easily identified by the uniform they wear and drive a government leased vehicle with government tags.

They conduct inspections to gather information and provide taxpayers with the necessary steps to become and remain compliant with the fuel tax laws.
 

Revenue officers are IRS civil enforcement employees who work cases that involve an amount owed by a taxpayer or a delinquent tax return. Their role involves education, investigation, and appropriate enforcement actions. 

Many collection cases begin as letters (called “notices”) sent by mail to taxpayers because the case is unresolved. Some of the cases assigned to a revenue officer were also previously worked by the Automated Collection System (ACS). ACS is an IRS program that tries to directly resolve a taxpayer’s account over the phone if their situation wasn’t resolved by a response to a previously sent notice. A revenue officer will help you understand your tax obligations as well as the consequences for not meeting the obligations. The revenue officer will ensure you understand your rights and obligations as a taxpayer. 

Revenue officers carry two forms of official identification, IRS-issued credentials (also called a pocket commission) and a HSPD-12 card. The HSPD-12 card is a governmentwide standard form of identification for federal employees. Both forms of identification have serial numbers and photos of the employee – and you can ask to see both. When at a home or place of business, the revenue officer can also provide an additional method to verify their identification upon request.

Revenue Officer Visits

You can use these tips to help verify that the revenue officer visiting you is an IRS employee:

  • A revenue officer will contact a taxpayer through an appointment letter to schedule an initial meeting or a follow-up meeting. In certain circumstances the revenue officer may call the taxpayer to confirm their information prior to sending the appointment letter. The appointment letter will include a phone number for you to call and confirm the appointment. You will be able to schedule face-to-face meetings at a set place and time, with the necessary information and documents in hand to reach resolution of your case more quickly and eliminate the burden of multiple future meetings. 
  • There are limited situations where unannounced visits will occur. These limited instances include service of summonses or subpoenas; and also sensitive enforcement activities involving the seizure of assets, especially those at risk of being placed beyond the reach of the government.
  • A portion of a revenue officer's work involves outreach to employers, called Federal Tax Deposit Alerts. These alerts are designed to help businesses from falling behind on withheld employment taxes before a balance due notice is created or mailed.
    • Telephone Contact Letter
      • The revenue officer will first schedule a phone contact with the employer by sending L5857, FTD Alert Telephone Contact. The letter notifies the employer that the initial contact will be made by phone on a specific date. The L5857 will include a phone number to call for the employer to confirm or reschedule the initial contact. An in-person follow up meeting may be scheduled after the initial phone contact.
  • This should be the first bullet under this heading.

The IRS does not:

  • Call to demand that a taxpayer use a payment method such as a prepaid debit card or gift card. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
  • Send text messages or contact people through social media.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed. They will advise you of your rights as a taxpayer.
  • Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law-enforcement to have you arrested for not paying. The IRS also cannot revoke your driver’s license, business licenses or immigration status. Threats like these are common tactics used by scam artists to trick victims into buying into their schemes.

Payments:

If you have an outstanding federal tax debt, the revenue officer will request payment by cash, check, certified funds or money order payable to “United States Treasury.” The IRS provides specific guidelines on how you can make a tax payment at IRS.gov/payments.

IRS criminal investigators may visit a taxpayer’s home or business unannounced during an investigation. However, they will not demand any sort of payment. 

Learn more About Criminal Investigation and How Criminal Investigations are Initiated.

Scams take many shapes and forms, such as phone calls, letters and emails. Many IRS impersonators use threats to intimidate and bully people into paying a fabricated tax bill. They may even threaten to arrest or deport their would-be victim if they don’t comply.

How To Report Scams: Taxpayers can use these options to report phone, email and other impersonation scams: 

  • Report impersonation scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration on the IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting webpage. Taxpayers can also call 800-366-4484 to report impersonation scams.
  • Report phone scams to the Federal Trade Commission using the FTC Complaint Assistant. Add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.
  • Report an unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS or an IRS-related system like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.
  • Protect your community by reporting fraud, scams, and bad business practices. Report fraud to Report Fraud FTC.
  • For a comprehensive listing of recent tax scams, consumer alerts and how to report them, visit Tax Scams/Consumer Alerts.