Someone is knocking at your door or just presented themselves at your office claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”).

Is that really the IRS knocking at your door?

Believe it or not, that’s a concern shared by individuals and the IRS itself. According to the IRS, many taxpayers have encountered individuals impersonating IRS officials – in person, over the telephone and via email. 

In-person tax scams, while not receiving much press, are still happening. Some scammers do show up on people’s porches pretending to be IRS collection agents. They know that there are some special circumstances in which an IRS agent is allowed to show up in person at taxpayer’s workplaces or homes. And in some instances, the visits can be unannounced.

However, in these cases, which typically fall into three categories, there are rules the IRS employees must follow.

1. Audits: IRS revenue agents will sometimes visit a taxpayer who is being audited. But that taxpayer would have first been notified about the audit. After first mailing an appointment letter to a taxpayer, an auditor would then call to confirm that in-person meeting and discuss items pertaining to the scheduled audit visit. By the time the IRS knocks on the door the person whose returns are being examined would have by then been well aware of the audit.

2. Criminal investigations: IRS criminal investigators may visit a taxpayer’s home or place of business unannounced while conducting an investigation. However, they must follow strict procedures to initiate a criminal investigation and recommend prosecution to the Department of Justice.

When a criminal tax investigation does call for an in-person visit, the IRS notes that its CI agents are federal law enforcement officers and they will not demand any sort of paymentCriminal investigators also carry law enforcement credentials, including a badge.

3. Tax returns, taxes due: IRS revenue officers also will sometimes make unannounced visits to a taxpayer’s home or place of business to discuss taxes owed or due tax returns. Like in item #1 above, by the time of the visit the taxpayer the IRS has notified the delinquent taxpayers first with written notices via U.S. mail about the due taxes.

Proper ID required

In each of the allowable in-person contacts mentioned above, the IRS notes that when a real employee from any of its divisions does show up at your home or office, he or she will present proper identification.

In fact, IRS employees always provide two forms of official credentials. The first is a pocket commission and the other is an HSPD-12 card. This ID badge, created pursuant to Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12 (hence the acronym), is a government-wide standard for secure and reliable forms of identification for Federal employees and contractors.

Criminal investigators, as noted earlier, also will have a badge. You have the right to see all of these credentials.

Dealing with an “IRS” visit: So what should you do if someone suddenly shows up at your door saying he/she is with the IRS?

  1. Be polite. It might be a real IRS visit. In that case, there’s no need to tick off the tax man.
  2. Ask to see the person’s ID badges. Plural. The versions described earlier in this post.
  3. If you have any doubts about the identity of the person or the tax reason why he/she is at your door, tell the person that you want your representative to be there, too. Under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, you have the right to retain an authorized representative of your choice to represent you in any dealings with the IRS.
  4. If the person claiming to be with the IRS asks or demands that you make a payment then and there to them or another person or a place other than the U.S. Treasury, close the door. Then lock it. Then call the police and the IRS.

What a real IRS agent won’t do

  1. IRS employees will not demand that you make an immediate payment. You always have the right to question or appeal the amount of tax the agency says you owe.
  2. Ask for payment be made in an unusual form, such as prepaid debit or gift cards.
  3. Threaten to revoke your driver’s or other licenses or bring in local police, immigration officers or other law enforcement officials to have you arrested for not paying your federal taxes.

Such collection techniques are scams, regardless of whether they’re made in person by phone or in an email. Don’t be taken in by tax crooks regardless of how they contact you.