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Real vs. Fake IRS Letters: How To Identify and Respond

Differentiating real IRS letters from scams is crucial. Understand their traits, verify content, and report suspicious activity promptly.

In the maze of the tax season, distinguishing between a legitimate IRS letter and a cleverly disguised scam can be daunting. Each year, while the IRS sends out millions of genuine communications to taxpayers, scammers parallel this effort with their own flood of deceitful letters, aiming to exploit fears and extract money or personal information. Understanding how to verify the authenticity of IRS correspondence is crucial for protecting your identity and finances.

How To Recognize Official IRS Communication

The IRS contacts taxpayers for a variety of legitimate reasons, such as discrepancies in tax returns, outstanding tax liabilities, or to confirm identity for processing refunds. However, panic is unnecessary. Real IRS letters usually provide a 30-day window to respond, giving you ample time to verify their authenticity and address any issues.

Traits of Genuine IRS Letters

Authentic IRS letters share specific traits:

  • Delivery Method: They're sent via the United States Postal Service.
  • Presentation: They bear the IRS logo, your taxpayer ID, and often include a specific notice number or letter code, such as CP75 or LTR 12C, on the right side of the document.
  • Content: They provide detailed information relevant to your tax situation without asking for sensitive personal data via mail or email.

Signs of Fraudulent IRS Letters

Scam letters often raise immediate red flags:

  1. Immediate Payment Demands: They press for payment through unconventional methods like gift cards or wire transfers.
  2. Threatening Language: They may threaten jail time or legal action in their initial contact.
  3. Errors and Oddities: Look out for missing IRS logos, incorrect taxpayer information, grammatical mistakes, or unusual syntax.
  4. Unusual Requests: Any letter asking for personal details like PINs or bank information is suspicious.

Common Scam Tactics

Scammers have several tactics to watch out for:

  1. Refund and Debt Scams: Promising large refunds or threatening due to unpaid taxes, often demanding personal information or fees.
  2. Phishing Attempts: Sending emails or letters with malicious links pretending to be the IRS to steal personal data.
  3. Threats and Unusual Payments: Claiming severe consequences for non-payment and requesting payments to non-governmental entities.

Verifying an IRS Letter

To confirm if an IRS letter is genuine:

  • Check Identifying Features: Official logos, correct taxpayer information, and absence of grammatical errors are good signs.
  • Analyze Content: Genuine letters are specific to your tax situation and avoid demanding sensitive information directly.
  • Verify Contact Information: Cross-reference any contact details with those on the official IRS website. Avoid using phone numbers or links from the letter if you're suspicious.

How To Respond to IRS Scams

If you suspect a scam:

  • Do Not Engage: Avoid responding directly to the letter.
  • Report It: Forward suspicious emails to and consider reporting to the FTC or local law enforcement for potential identity theft.
  • Stay Informed: Regularly monitor your financial accounts and credit reports for any unusual activities.

How To Protect Yourself From Tax Scams

The best defense against IRS scams is informed vigilance. Understand your tax obligations, keep your financial records organized, and stay updated on common scam tactics. The IRS provides resources and guidance for taxpayers to manage their taxes and offers solutions for those struggling with tax debts.

In essence, while IRS communications can initially cause anxiety, understanding how to distinguish between legitimate correspondence and scams empowers you to protect your financial and personal information confidently. Always take the time to verify the authenticity of IRS letters and know your rights and options as a taxpayer.


Navigating tax season means deciphering between real IRS letters and scams. While the IRS sends millions of authentic notices annually, scammers flood in with deceit. Recognizing official IRS communication involves understanding delivery methods, presentation, and content, giving you time to verify authenticity. Signs of fraud include immediate payment demands, threats, errors, and unusual requests. Scammers employ tactics like refund promises and phishing. Verify letters by checking features, analyzing content, and confirming contact info. If you suspect a scam, report it and stay vigilant. Educate yourself on tax obligations and IRS resources to safeguard against scams. Protect your finances and identity with knowledge and vigilance.

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