Is the IRS Calling You? How to Identify Legitimate IRS Contact

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the federal agency responsible for tax collection and administration in the United States. While the IRS primarily communicates with taxpayers through mail, there are instances where they may initiate contact via phone or in person. It’s crucial for taxpayers to be able to distinguish between legitimate IRS communications and potential scams. This guide will provide you with the knowledge to recognize genuine IRS contact and protect yourself from fraudulent attempts.

How the IRS Typically Contacts Taxpayers

In most cases, the IRS will initiate contact with taxpayers through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service (USPS). However, there are certain circumstances where the IRS may reach out via phone or visit a taxpayer’s home or business. These situations typically involve:

  • Overdue tax bills
  • Delinquent (unfiled) tax returns
  • Unpaid employment tax deposits
  • Collection investigations
  • Audits
  • Ongoing criminal investigations

Even in these instances, taxpayers will generally receive multiple notices and letters from the IRS in the mail before any phone calls or in-person visits.

IRS Audits

Audits are conducted by IRS revenue agents to verify the accuracy of tax returns. Audits can be conducted either by mail or through an in-person interview. During an in-person audit, the revenue agent may visit the taxpayer’s place of business or accountant’s office (field audit) or conduct the audit at an IRS office (office audit).

IRS employees conducting audits may call taxpayers, but only after attempting to notify them by mail. After sending an official notification of an audit, an auditor or tax examiner may call to discuss items related to the audit.

IRS Collection Activities

Revenue officers are IRS civil enforcement employees who handle cases involving unpaid taxes or delinquent tax returns. They are responsible for educating taxpayers about their tax obligations, investigating their financial situations, and taking appropriate enforcement actions.

Many collection cases begin with letters (notices) sent by mail to taxpayers. In some cases, a revenue officer may be assigned to work on the case. Revenue officers will typically schedule an appointment with the taxpayer to discuss the outstanding tax liability and explore payment options.

IRS Criminal Investigations

IRS criminal investigators may visit a taxpayer’s home or business unannounced during an investigation. However, they will not demand any sort of payment. Criminal investigations are typically initiated based on suspected tax fraud or other criminal violations.

Beware of IRS Impersonation Scams

Unfortunately, there are individuals who impersonate IRS employees to trick taxpayers into providing personal or financial information or making fraudulent payments. These scams can take various forms, including phone calls, emails, and letters.

Common Red Flags of IRS Scams:

  • Threats of immediate arrest or deportation: The IRS will never threaten to arrest or deport you for unpaid taxes.
  • Demands for payment using unusual methods: The IRS will not demand payment via prepaid debit cards, gift cards, or wire transfers.
  • Requests for personal or financial information over the phone: The IRS will not ask for your Social Security number, bank account information, or other sensitive data over the phone.
  • Unsolicited emails or text messages: The IRS will not initiate contact with you via unsolicited emails or text messages.

How to Report IRS Impersonation Scams

If you suspect that you are being targeted by an IRS impersonation scam, you can report it to the following agencies:

Tips for Verifying the Legitimacy of IRS Contact

To protect yourself from IRS impersonation scams, it’s important to be able to verify the legitimacy of IRS contact. Here are some tips:

  • Ask for identification: IRS employees will always carry two forms of official identification: an IRS-issued credential (pocket commission) and a HSPD-12 card. Both forms of identification will have the employee’s photo and a serial number.
  • Call the IRS directly: If you receive a suspicious phone call or email claiming to be from the IRS, hang up or delete the email and call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040.
  • Check the IRS website: The IRS website has a wealth of information about scams and how to protect yourself. Visit for more information.

By understanding how the IRS typically contacts taxpayers and being aware of the red flags of IRS impersonation scams, you can protect yourself from fraudulent attempts. Remember, the IRS will never threaten you, demand immediate payment using unusual methods, or ask for personal or financial information over the phone. If you suspect that you are being targeted by an IRS scam, report it to the appropriate authorities and take steps to safeguard your personal and financial information.

How to Contact the IRS Operators by Phone


Is IRS accepting phone calls now?

Or speak with a representative by phone or in person. Visit the IRS contact page to get help using online tools and resources. Or: For individual tax returns, call 1-800-829-1040, 7 AM – 7 PM Monday through Friday local time.

Why is it so difficult to contact the IRS?

CSRs are too busy answering the phones to address their paper backlog and return processing is delayed as a result. This prompts taxpayers to call to ask about the status of their returns, which further swamps the phone lines and pulls CSRs away from return processing, perpetuating the spiral of delay.

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