Fake, spam and scam emails fills our email inboxes every day. Sometimes it’s easy to spot the scam due to poor English, a ridiculous story, a shady link or an unfamiliar email address in the “from” line of the email. But other times it’s not so easy because as people get smarter about spotting fakes, criminals also get smarter about making those fake or scam emails look more believable. Such is the case especially at tax time when emails that claim to be from the IRS routinely make their way to the inboxes of multitudes of people.
The simplest way to know that an email claiming to be from the IRS is fake is to know that the IRS does not send out unsolicited email alerts. If the Internal Revenue Service has something to tell you, they will do so by a real letter on actual paper in your mailbox.
However, if you do send a question to an IRS agent by email, you just might get an email response. And if you are waiting for a response from the IRS and receive a scam email instead, you may not realize it since you were expecting that email. In that case, look the email over carefully. Does it respond specifically to the question you asked? An email from the IRS should respond to your question, not ask you for personal information. The IRS will never, in any circumstance, ask you for personal information by email. If the email you receive asks for your Social Security Number, your credit card or banking information or any other personal information, it is not from the IRS.
If you were expecting an email from the IRS and do want to make sure the response is legitimate, hit “reply” and look at the email address that appears in the “to” box. Is it from an email “@irs.gov”? If not, it is most likely a fraudulent email and that response you were waiting to receive.
Popular email scams include claims that the IRS is looking into fraudulent information on your tax return and therefore you must click a link or open an attachment to see which information is in question. The IRS will never inform you of an audit or suspected fraud by email, so never click the link or open an attachment in these cases. Another type of scam will tell you that you are getting a refund and you need to click a link to claim it. That is, of course, never the case. You will either get a direct deposit to your bank account if you gave the IRS your information directly on your tax form or you will get a check in the mail.
If you receive an email that you suspect to be fraudulent, use the forward button on your email and send the entire email to email@example.com to let them look it over. This helps you have peace of mind and it also helps the IRS stay up-to-date on the latest scams.