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This tax season, protect yourself from IRS imposter scams

An IRS imposter scam is when someone contacts you pretending to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). They falsely say that you owe taxes and must pay them immediately or face serious penalties.  

Maybe you receive a call from someone claiming to be an auditor and orders you to pay money immediately for a tax debt… or else. The caller might shout insults and demand that you pay over the phone by credit card. Or maybe you receive a voicemail message stating that you have 24 hours to return the call and pay your supposed debt with gift cards… or else. The “or else” varies, but the person on the other end of the line could say that the punishment for not paying is arrest, taking away your driver’s license, jail, or deportation. 

Scammers are getting sophisticated 

Not only are the calls, voicemails, emails, or text messages from IRS imposters scary, but they seem real. The caller ID on your phone might say “Internal Revenue Service” or “Federal Government.” It might even have the real number for the IRS. Or the scammer might give you a name and badge number with a telephone number to gain your trust. These scammers use technology and their smarts to focus on making their scams seem as real as possible. Don’t fall for it. 

How do you know if the call is real? 

There are many different types of IRS imposter scams, so we made them the latest placemat topic in our series of fraud prevention placemats that meal service providers, libraries, financial institutions, or other groups can share with older adults.  

We asked the IRS to tell us what they WON’T do, so you know whether it’s a scam or the IRS. 

The IRS will NEVER: 

  • Call to demand immediate payment with a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer. 
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested or deported for not paying.
  • Demand payment without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Contact you by email, text message, or through social media to request personal or financial information such as PINs, passwords, credit card, bank, or other account information.

How can you protect yourself and others from IRS imposter scams? 

  • Order copies of the new IRS scams placemat for a meal site, or to share with friends and family. 
  • If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. 
  • Report possible IRS scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484 and to
  • If you get an email from someone claiming to be from the IRS, don’t open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the e-mail to

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