IRS Scams – Avoid IRS Fraud

Man on Laptop and Reviewing IRS Documents


Every year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) warns taxpayers to be on the lookout for new and more convincing tax scams.

In 2022 alone, the IRS flagged more than $5.7 billion in tax fraud according to, and 2023 is looking just as tough with rampant tax and refund scams. Some of the most prevalent scams target individual taxpayers, like phone scams, phishing, and refund fraud.

According to CNBC, the IRS also flagged more than a million tax returns for identity fraud in March 2023. Scams continue to get more advanced and creative, so it pays to know what to look out for.

Here are common tax and IRS impersonation scams, how you can avoid them, and what to do if you think you’re a victim.

Telephone Scams

According to NPR (National Public Radio), since 2018 more than 75,000 victims have lost $28 million to scammers impersonating the IRS over the phone, email, texts, and more.

If someone calls you and identifies themselves as an IRS representative, it’s smart to take it seriously. But before taking any action, consider the possibility of a scam.

If you owe money to the IRS or they need to contact you for any other reason, you will receive a letter via the U.S. Postal Service before they call you. If you’re unsure if you received a legitimate notice, keep these common scams in mind:

  • IRS impersonation phone scams: These are fake calls from someone claiming to be the IRS. Sometimes, they’ll demand immediate payment of taxes by prepaid debit card or wire transfer, or tell you that you’re entitled to a large refund if you provide personal information. Don’t do it.
  • Phone calls that threaten to suspend your social security number: Scammers might also mention an unpaid tax bill and threaten to suspend your social security number. You should never give out private information, like bank account numbers or a social security number, over the phone. If you receive one of these calls, hang up immediately.

Remember 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.
  • Call about an unexpected refund
  • Ask you to make a payment to a person or organization other than the U.S. Treasury
  • 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 allowing you to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages, or social media channels to request personal or financial information.

Know these telltale signs of a scam so you can protect yourself.

Digital Communication Scams

The IRS says there is a surge in email, phishing, and malware schemes. Phishing is when hackers use digital communications, such as emails, social media, text messages, and websites, to attempt to trick you into paying them or to steal your information. Malware is designed to infect devices or steal data and can be downloaded when you open a malicious email or link.

While some phishing scammers may impersonate the IRS, they can also pose as a company, store, or even a friend. These digital scams often include a link requesting personal data, such as your social security number.

Be on the lookout for these common phishing scams:

  • IRS impersonation email scams: The subject lines of these emails vary, but typically resemble, “Automatic Income Tax Reminder,” “Electronic Tax Return Reminder,” or something similar. The spoofed emails will contain details about a refund, electronic return, or tax account and link to a website with a URL resembling the authentic IRS website, They may also contain a “temporary password” or “one-time password” that will supposedly allow you access to the files to get your refund.
  • “Tax Transcript” email scams: These email scams usually have a subject line such as “Tax Account Transcript” or “Tax Transcript.” But be aware, that these faked communications have links or file attachments that contain malware, which can lead to unauthorized access, compromised data, or being locked out of your device.

If you see emails with suspicious headers and links, avoid, delete, and report them. Keep in mind that the IRS will never send unsolicited emails, email sensitive documents like tax transcripts, or contact anyone via social media or text message.

Tax Refund Scams

After stealing data from tax professionals and filing fraudulent tax returns, scammers deposit money into your bank account. Shortly after, they’ll call to notify you of the mistake and demand the money be returned.

Here’s what to look out for:

  • Some scammers may pose as debt collection agency officials and contact you to report a refund deposit error, and then request the money be returned to a “collection agency.”
  • Other times, scammers automate calls from the “IRS” with a false case number threatening you with criminal fraud charges, “blacklisting,” and an arrest warrant. This call will typically end with a phone number to call to return the tax refund.

Keep in mind that if for any reason you must return funds to the IRS, the above is never how it’s done. The IRS has specific procedures when this is required.

How to Tell if an IRS Communication is Real

It’s important to understand there are times when the IRS may have to contact you. In these instances, you will usually receive several letters (called “notices”) from the IRS in the mail first.

Here’s how to confirm other communications are legitimate:

  • If you’re being audited, it is possible a member of the IRS may call you to discuss terms, but only after contacting you by mail. The IRS will not demand you make an immediate payment to anyone other than the U.S. Treasury or request payment via prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer.
  • If someone from the IRS must come to your home, then they will always present you with two forms of official credentials: A pocket commission and an HSPD-12 card. The IRS no longer makes unannounced visits.

When to suspect that IRS communications are fraudulent:

  • Any contact that includes threats to call the police, immigration officers, or other law enforcement agencies to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Any contact that threatens to revoke your social security number, driver’s license, or immigration status.

Both are examples of ways scammers attempt to frighten you into buying into their schemes.

How to Protect Yourself Against Tax Fraud

 Here are best practices to help you minimize the possibility of becoming a victim of tax scams:

  • Do not give your social security number out unless there’s a good reason to do so, and you know exactly who you’re sharing the information with.
  • Avoid handling private financial matters over public wifi — this includes any free wifi in coffee houses, hotels, or airports, where wifi is open or where wifi access passwords are shared. Always use a secure internet connection, especially if you’re filing your taxes electronically.
  • Before handing over personal financial information to a tax preparer or IRS agent, make sure you research them or verify their credentials.
  • Check your credit report at least once per year to confirm there is no suspicion or unfamiliar activity.

You can learn more about how to protect yourself by reviewing the IRS 2023 “Dirty Dozen” list of the worst tax scams circulating.

If you believe you may be a victim of tax or IRS impersonation scams, you should report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at its IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting site or send an email to [email protected].