Fake IRS Letter: What Does a Real IRS Letter Look Like?
Every year, the IRS sends out millions of letters to taxpayers, but unfortunately, scammers also send out millions of letters every year. How do you know if the letter you just received is real or fake? Should you panic because the IRS is demanding money? Or should you throw the letter away because it’s a scam?
First of all, take a deep breath. Even if the letter is real, the IRS almost always gives taxpayers 30 days to respond. So, you have plenty of time to figure out if the letter is real or not. Here’s how to tell.
Signs That You Have Received a Fake IRS Letter
There are a lot of red flags that can help you determine if you’re dealing with a fake IRS letter. When trying to decide if a notice or letter is from the IRS, keep an eye out for the following issues.
1. You don’t think you owe any money to the IRS.
If you don’t have a tax debt, the letter is definitely a scam. Most scam letters threaten aggressive collection tactics to scare the victim into sending money to the scam artist. However, even if you owe a debt that you aren’t aware of, the IRS’s first letter won’t threaten collection actions. Instead, it will just alert you about the balance owed and outline your payment options.
That said, owing a tax debt doesn’t mean that your letter is real. Both scam artists and tax debt resolution companies look at public records of tax liens, and they often send letters to people who owe tax debts. If you owe money to the IRS or a state tax agency, you need to be extra cautious about the risk of scam letters.
2. Missing the IRS logo or the correct taxpayer information.
The IRS always prints its logo on the top left side of its letters. The right side of most real IRS letters shows the name of the notice (typically this is two letters followed by a number), the notice date, and your truncated taxpayer ID number (Social Security Number, EIN, or individual taxpayer identification number).
Most new IRS letters also contain a link to the IRS webpage explaining the notice. For example, if you receive IRS Notice CP75, it will probably say “https://irs.gov/cp75” somewhere in the header. Scammers typically aren’t going to direct you to the IRS’s website.
3. Misspellings, grammatical errors, or odd syntax.
A lot of IRS scam letters are written by scammers who speak English as a second language. If you see grammatical errors or if the wording just doesn’t feel right, you may have received a scam letter. This is a big red flag because the IRS always uses proper grammar and correct spelling.
However, just because the letter has perfect grammar doesn’t mean that it’s real. You also have to take into account all of the other elements on this list.
4. Incorrect language
This can be a hard issue for non-tax professionals to spot, but scam letters often use different language than real IRS letters. In particular, they may include the following phrases: distraint warrant, notice of warranted lien, and seizure and forfeiture may be imminent due to nonpayment. The IRS doesn’t use these phrases.
5. Threatening demand for immediate payment.
The IRS demands payments from taxpayers. In fact, some real IRS letters are called “Demand for Payment” notices. For example, the CP14 notice is sometimes called a demand for payment letter.
However, the IRS always gives you at least a 30-day notice before taking collection actions against you. For instance, if the IRS is going to seize your assets or garnish your wages, it must notify you at least 30 days before doing so. The only exceptions are if the IRS is seizing your tax refund, the collection of the tax is in jeopardy, or in certain cases with unpaid payroll taxes.
Scammers, in contrast, almost always demand immediate payment. Building urgency and scaring victims helps their scams be more successful. When scammers send out these types of letters, they don’t want you to do research. They want you to feel scared so that you call the number on the notice and make a payment. Some scammers may even threaten jail or prison time — the IRS doesn’t make these threats in letters.
6. Irregular payment requests
If you owe money to the IRS, you make the payment to the Department of the Treasury. If you owe back taxes to your state, you make your payment to the state revenue agency. Scammers, however, often request payments to other entities, and in some cases, they request gift cards, wire transfers, or other unusual types of payments.
Some IRS scam letters tell you that you will win a prize if you pay your bill. This is another red flag. The IRS doesn’t give out prizes. It collects taxes.
7. Lacking an official IRS letter envelope.
Real IRS letters come in official envelopes. They note the “Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service” followed by a few different addresses. Under that, there is some text that says “Official Business Penalty for Private Use”. Official IRS envelopes usually have a window that shows your name and address printed on a piece of paper in the envelope.
If you’re still not sure if the letter is real or not, you can call the IRS directly. Do not call the number on the letter — remember if the letter is fake, the phone number is also fake. Instead, call the IRS’s main phone number: (800) 829-1040 for individuals, (800)-829-4933 for businesses, or (877) 829-5500 for non-profits.
Unfortunately, you should expect to deal with long hold times when you call the IRS. In fact, that’s another red flag of tax scams. If you call a phone number from a fake letter and someone answers immediately, you’re probably not talking to the IRS.
IRS Scam Letters From Scam Artists
The most popular type of IRS scam letter is from a scam artist who is trying to steal your money. These letters say that you owe money to the IRS, and they often threaten severe consequences such as asset seizures or jail time.
They also direct you to a phone number that you should call. Once you call, the person on the other end of the line will pretend that they are from the IRS, and they will continue the threats and scare tactics.
They will try to get you to make a payment during the phone call. Scam artists know that urgency is critical. They know that if you get off the phone and do more research, you’ll figure out that the letter was a scam and you won’t call back. Don’t be pressured by their tactics. This is another sign that you’re not dealing with the IRS.
Fake IRS Letters From Tax Debt Relief Companies
Sometimes, unscrupulous tax debt relief companies use fake IRS letters as a marketing strategy. Generally, the letters don’t pretend to be from the IRS or another tax agency. Instead, they pretend to be from fake places like the Tax Processing Unit, the Tax Resolution Unit, or the Domestic Judgment Registry.
These letters may reference a real tax debt — Remember that tax liens are public records, and these companies use that information to scare you into calling them. Marketing letters tend to have a paragraph similar to the following:
“The federal tax authorities have placed a lien against your assets for x amount. You have failed to make payment, and now, you may face collection actions. To protect yourself from losing your home, car, or other assets, call this phone number in five days.”
Then, when you call, you reach a salesperson at a tax debt relief company. Generally, this is not a licensed tax professional. It’s a salesperson who will try to talk you into setting up services with the company.
From that point on, the results may vary. The company may resolve your tax debt, but in most cases, they will also overcharge you and provide subpar services. For instance, they may cut corners so that you end up paying more than you would have if you had worked with a more skilled tax professional.
In other cases, the company may just take your money and run. Or they may get you to pay a high upfront fee, and then, they may purposefully take so long to deal with your account that you end up hiring someone else to help you. These letters aren’t scams per se, but they are a very unethical type of advertising. Don’t work with a company that uses these tactics.
If a company provides high-quality tax resolution services, it will never resort to these tactics. Instead, it will rely on honest marketing tactics, and it will have a lot of positive reviews from satisfied customers.
What to Do If You Receive a Fake Letter From the IRS — How to Report IRS Scams
If you receive a fake letter from the IRS, do not respond. Do not call the number on the notice. Do not mail in any payments.
You can report the letter to the IRS by emailing a copy to email@example.com. This helps the IRS understand the tactics that scammers are using to attack people, and it can help them track down scam artists.
Scammers also use emails, phone calls, texts, and social media messages to trick victims. Again, don’t engage, and if possible, report the interaction to the IRS. If you receive an email, make sure not to download anything to your computer.
Keep in mind that the IRS contacts taxpayers through the mail. The agency doesn’t reach out over email, social media, or text. In some cases, the IRS will call taxpayers. The agency also uses third-party collection agencies to contact taxpayers. But in both cases, you will receive a letter before you get a phone call.
What to Do If You Really Owe Money to the IRS
Sometimes, receiving a fake IRS letter can be a call to action to deal with your real tax debt. The IRS has many different programs to help people get caught up on their back taxes. This includes monthly payment plans, offers in compromise, penalty abatement, and more.
Ready to get help from real professionals? Then, contact us today. At the W Tax Group, we are focused on helping taxpayers get relief from their tax debts. We work closely with our clients to help them find personalized solutions for their unique problems.