How to Spot a Fake IRS Letter


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With the IRS still sending out a slew of letters relating to 2020 tax returns, you might be wondering if the letter you’ve received is legitimate and not a scam. The short answer is to verify directly with the IRS if you get a letter that asks you for personal information or a payment for back taxes, but there’s also other signs that the letter you’ve received isn’t on the level. Here’s how you can spot a fake IRS letter.

What a real IRS will look like

An IRS envelope will include the IRS logo and the letter will have your partial tax ID number, and either a notice number (CP) or letter number (LTR) on either the top or bottom right-hand corner of the page. Your letter will also include your rights as a taxpayer (something a scammer is unlikely to include). In terms of content, the letter will be sent to you for a few specific reasons:

  • You have a balance due.
  • You are due a larger or smaller refund.
  • The IRS has a question about your tax return.
  • The IRS needs to verify your identity.
  • The IRS needs additional information from you.
  • The IRS has changed your tax return.
  • The IRS is notifying you of delays in processing your return.

A real IRS letter will never demand immediate payment or otherwise pressure you into giving out your personal information. If you are asked to pay back taxes, you will always be given steps to appeal your payment first. And you’ll never be asked to make payments directly to the “IRS”—instead, payments will always be made to the Treasury department, which you can do by visiting www.irs.gov (and if the letter mentions gift cards? Forget it, that’s a scam).

When in doubt, verify with the IRS directly 

Since IRS logos and letters can be easily faked, if you have any doubts that the letter is real, the Better Business Bureau recommends going to IRS.gov to search for the relevant notice or form number and read the IRS’s page Understanding Your IRS Notice or Letter. You can also call the IRS at 800-829-1040 to confirm that the letter is real (use the notice or letter number as reference when talking to an IRS agent).

If you think you’ve received a fake IRS letter, report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and with the IRS directly at phishing@irs.gov.