Avoid IRS Email Scams With These Warning Signs

Learn the difference between an official IRS communication and a scam to keep your information safe.
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Outside of filing taxes, most people hope the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) leaves them alone for the remainder of the year. However, you may receive communication from the IRS — or someone posing to be the IRS. Scammers use the IRS (and people’s fear of the organization) to prey on unsuspecting people.

Many scams involve the IRS, including tax refunds, auditing, and more. These scams are not limited to individuals; scammers also use the veil of the IRS to scam tax professionals and businesses.

Before we look at common email scams, it is important to note that the IRS will not initiate a conversation with you via email, text message, or social media. Along with understanding common IRS scams, you should also consider these tips to protect your identity.

In this article
IRS email scam warning signs
Current IRS email scams
How does the IRS initiate contact?
How to report IRS email scams
IRS email scam FAQs
Bottom line

IRS email scam warning signs

Various IRS email scams circulate throughout the year. However, many of these scams have similar warning signs:

  • Abnormal communication method: As previously stated, the IRS does not communicate with people via email, text message, or social media. In most cases, the IRS will send you an official letter via the United States Postal Service (USPS).
  • Unusual email addresses: If you receive an email claiming to be from the IRS, you should always check the sender’s email address.
  • Suspicious links: Scammers may be hoping you’ll unsuspectingly click on a link and input your personally identifiable information (PII) into a fraudulent webpage. Always look into the link’s URL before clicking on it. You can do this by hovering over the link to see the actual URL.
  • Sense of urgency: Be cautious of emails with an unnecessary sense of urgency. Emails, text messages, or other communication that demand information quickly are likely scams.
  • Vague subject lines: Another common sign of a scam are vague subject lines or unclear information within the email’s body. These subject lines could say something like “Tax Refund Recalculation” or "Automatic Income Tax Reminder."

Current IRS email scams

Many types of IRS email scams exist, and new scams are always being created to trick people into sharing information or sending money to scammers. There may even be new scams after current events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The IRS has warned people to look out for the following common email scams.

Scams targeting educational institutions

Scammers are sending phishing emails to users with .edu email addresses. These emails may request additional information for your tax refund on behalf of the IRS, such as PIN and credit card numbers, financial account passwords, and Social Security numbers.

The phishing schemes will prompt the recipient to follow a link. The link will look like a legitimate IRS website but will ask for the recipient’s personal or financial information. Once you click on the link, it may prompt you to enter your username and password, Social Security number, credit card number, or other personal information. If you receive a suspicious email like this, do not click the link or input any personal information. Report phishing scams to the IRS.

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Phishing emails impersonating the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel

Instead of forging an official IRS email, fraudsters may also act as the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel. They hope that an email from a different organization inside the IRS may confuse people enough to share sensitive information. In many cases, the email may be about a potential refund, and it will ask for information from the recipient to finish the refund process.

Tax refund recalculation scams

Scammers may try to gain access to your information by claiming that your tax refund needs a recalculation. This scam can scare unsuspecting people into sharing personal information because they may be wary of a reduced refund.

The email’s subject line may mention a tax refund recalculation, and the body may contain a link asking the recipient to input personal information into a bogus form.

Unemployment fraud

While many of these scams involve IRS impersonation, others involve pretending to be another person to claim unemployment benefits. If you receive a notice from the IRS about unemployment benefits that you did not request or receive, report the fraud to the state where it occurred. You can learn more about unemployment fraud from the Department of Labor.

Attacks on cloud-based platforms

Scammers are also working to gain access to cloud-based platforms that may host the personal information of tax professionals and their clients. Once scammers gain access to these platforms, they can find information from previous years’ tax returns to file new returns and gain access to the refunds. Smaller tax professionals may be more susceptible to this scam because they often have less strict security standards.

Requests to update your IRS e-file

You may receive an email purporting to be from an IRS employee requesting that you update information as part of your IRS e-file. These emails will look like official IRS communication requesting that you confirm your Electronic Filing Identification Number (EFIN). Scammers can then use that EFIN to gain access to your information.

Spear-phishing emails targeting tax professionals

Spear-phishing is a more targeted email scam where fraudsters learn about a person they are targeting to be more enticing to the target. Many of these spear-phishing scams target tax professionals.

Fraudsters may email a tax professional claiming to be a potential client. The “potential client” will send a file of alleged tax documents. Once the tax professional opens the email link, it installs malware onto their computer.

Pandemic-related email scams

Scammers used the COVID-19 pandemic to create new and innovative ways to access people’s PII. Quarantine and pandemic protocols meant that people sent more tax-related and personal information via email. Scammers use these new protocols to send malware and other unsafe links and attachments to tax professionals. If a tax professional clicks on the malware, it could give scammers access to clients' information.

How does the IRS initiate contact?

The IRS may use several means of communication to reach you. In most cases, the IRS will send you a notice via USPS. An IRS agent may also reach out to you by phone or with an in-person visit. The IRS does not use email, text messages, or social media to initiate conversations.

How to report IRS email scams

It is important to report any potential scams to the IRS to help protect future victims.

  • To report a phishing email scam, forward the email to phishing@irs.gov.
  • To report unemployment fraud, report the scam to the state where it occurred.
  • If you are a victim of identity theft, report it to Identify Theft Central.
  • To report impersonation scams, contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration on the IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting webpage.

After you report a scam, it is also a good idea to refresh yourself on identity theft prevention strategies.

IRS email scam FAQs


How do I know if an email from the IRS is real?

The IRS will not initiate contact with you via email. It is likely a scam if you receive an email from the IRS but have not received any other communication. If you received a notice from the IRS via regular mail or in person, you might receive follow-up communication via email.


How will the IRS contact me?

In most cases, you will receive a letter from the IRS via USPS. In some cases, the IRS may give you a phone call or meet with you in person. Ask for credentials before sharing any personal information.


How do I report a fake IRS email?

Report unsolicited emails or any other fake communication from the IRS immediately. To report a scam, send an email to phishing@irs.gov.

Bottom line

Whether you’re a tax professional or a taxpayer, it is essential to look for warning signs of a scam when receiving any communication from the IRS. The IRS and tax professionals have access to the most sensitive personal information. If scammers get access to that information, they may be able to access future tax refunds or develop other scams to steal money from victims.

If you receive any contact from the IRS, look for the warning signs of a scam before clicking on any link or inputting any information. The IRS will not communicate with you via email, text, or social media. Official communication from the IRS will be via mail, phone, or an in-person visit. Staying up to date on current scams and steps for identity theft protection is important.

If you think you are a victim of an IRS scam, report the scam to phishing@irs.gov.

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Author Details
Andrew Strom Adams is a freelance writer focused on online privacy and digital security. He writes on various topics to help individuals protect themselves on the internet. Andrew has worked in legal marketing, technology, and startups. He has more than 12 years of experience in marketing and communications. He holds an M.B.A. from Westminster College and a B.A. in journalism from Oklahoma Baptist University. When he’s not writing, he’s playing with his two kids or watching reality TV.