IRS Phone and Email Tax Scams

Consumer Alert

Bill Schuette
Attorney General

The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern.  Consumer alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.

IRS Will Never Ask for Taxpayers' Personal Information by Phone or in Emails

Anybody contacting you claiming to be from the IRS and asking you for personal identifying information is a crook. Every year the IRS issues warnings about rebate or other scams being perpetrated by con artists claiming to work for the agency. Here is a list of things the IRS will NEVER do:

  • Call you and demand immediate payment
  • Demand payment without any chance to appeal or question the amount due
  • Threaten to have you arrested
  • Require a specific payment method, like a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer
  • Ask for your bank account number

IRS phone scams are not new, and like death and taxes, annual tax scams are now on the list of life’s certainties. Phone tax scams started getting reported in 2013, and by 2014, tax officials recognized IRS phone scams as the “largest tax scam ever,” conning thousands of victims out of more than $26.5 million. When tax season hits, IRS phone scams top the list of calls to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.

IRS phone and email scams join the growing number of popular electronic scams committed from a remote location, often overseas.  Committing these in cyberspace or over a phone, tax fraudsters strike quickly and can cover, erase, or leave no tracks before the taxpayer knows they’ve been duped.

The goal of these crooks is to steal money, take control of personal computers, or commit identity theft. IRS scams enable con artists to get bank account information, Social Security numbers, or credit and debit card details.These tech-savvy crooks can spoof caller ID to make their calls look like they are coming from an official number or location. 

Phone tax scams come in many varieties. Regardless of how good or threatening a particular pitch sounds, don’t fall for it. Some recently reported IRS phone scams include:

  • Back Taxes or Penalty Phone Call - High pressure calls threaten legal action that can only be avoided by immediate payment. If you are tempted to pay, look for these clues: payment must be made by difficult-to-trace transfer methods, like a wire transfer or a pre-paid card; and the payment must be made right away. When victims provide the card numbers and PINs to the caller, the caller quickly wipes the cards clean of funds. 
  • Rebate Phone Call - Aimed at seniors, the caller identifies himself as an IRS employee and tells the targeted victim that he is eligible for a sizable rebate for filing taxes early. The fake IRS employee states that he needs the target's bank account information for direct deposit of the rebate. Providing your bank account details gives criminals access to your funds.
  • Paper Check Phone Call - In this telephone scam, a fake IRS employee indicates the IRS sent a check that has not been cashed and the IRS needs to verify the individual's bank account number. The only way the IRS collects your bank account details is if you choose to put them in your tax return. 
    • using the official IRS logo;
    • using whole sections of text from the IRS's website;
    • using a fake "from" address (see example below); and
    • using forms with numbers similar to those the IRS already uses

IRS Email Scams

Email is another popular method of choice for IRS scams. Common email tricks used by these crooks include:

  • false claims that you are due a refund;
  • offers to track your refund;
  • bogus notices that your tax return will be audited; and
  • fake links to tax law changes. Whatever the pitch, all these scams have the same goal: to lure you to give them your personal information. Don’t fall for it.  Remember, the IRS will not email you and ask for your personal information.

Example of a fraudulent IRS email

What to Do if You Get an Email or Phone Call Purporting to Come From the IRS

First, if you don’t owe taxes, hang up immediately or delete the email without opening it.  Report any suspicious solicitation to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration hotline at 800-366-4484.

If you do owe on your taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 if you need federal tax assistance.

You may forward emails to phishing@irs.gov, the address established by the IRS to receive, track, and shut down these scams. Detailed instructions for how to send the emails are available through the IRS. You may not receive an individual response to your email because of the volume of reports the IRS receives each day.

You may also report misuse of the IRS name, logo, forms, or other IRS property using the Treasury Inspector General's website or hotline at 800-366-4484.

Remember that the only genuine IRS website is www.irs.gov. You should never get to this site using a link embedded into an email - instead enter the address in your browser. A website link embedded into an email can easily take you to a fake site.

Beware of Advance Refund Loans

An advance refund loan is a loan based on money you are expecting to get as a tax refund. These loans can be legitimate but lenders charge huge rates of interest and fees. Sending your return in on time will sometimes get your money is just a few weeks, without a hefty price.

Additional Information

Consumers may contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at:

Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
517-373-1140
Fax: 517-241-3771
Toll free: 877-765-8388
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