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How to tell if that IRS agent on your porch is legit

Is that really the Internal Revenue Service knock, knock, knocking on your door?

That's a concern shared not just by individuals who find people claiming to be with the federal tax collector's office, but also the IRS itself.

businessman knocking on door

"Many taxpayers have encountered individuals impersonating IRS officials – in person, over the telephone and via email," noted the IRS in a statement issued this week.

In-person tax scams: While email phishing attempts and the still pervasive fake IRS agent telephone tax scam are still going strong — and could even see a surge as the cons are tweaked to incorporate the return of private debt collectors now contacting folks who owe taxes — we haven't heard a lot about face-to-face tax scams.

Apparently, though, some brazen scammers do show up on people's porches pretending to be IRS collection agents.

That kind of freaks me out. If someone's that willing to look you in the eye and lie, then I'm a bit concerned about what else that person might do.

That's why I never answer my front door without first peeking out a side window.

If I don't see a U.S. Post Office or other delivery service employee (or a handful of neighbors; you know who you are!), I just quietly close the blinds and head back to my office. Or den, depending on the time of day and what sports are being televised then.

Special tax visit situations: These in-person tax scammers 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.

But 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.

The bottom line, says the IRS, is that while there are various reasons why it might telephone or visit a taxpayer at home during an audit, by the time that happens 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.

Criminal investigations can be initiated from information obtained from within the IRS when an auditor or collections officer detects possible fraud or from investigations underway by other law enforcement agencies. IRS special agents 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 payment. Criminal 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. Revenue officers are IRS civil enforcement employees whose role involves education, investigation, and when necessary, appropriate enforcement.

In the vast majority of collection cases, the IRS says that delinquent taxpayers first receive written notices via U.S. mail about the due taxes. Many of the cases also have previously been worked under the Automated Collection System, in which the agency tries to resolve the delinquent account over the phone directly with the taxpayer after the mailed notice didn't produce any results.

On the business side, what the IRS calls "a small portion" of revenue officers’ work involves proactive outreach to employers. These so-called Federal Tax Deposit Alerts are sent at the first sign that a business taxpayer is falling behind on payroll tax deposits. These are generally not preceded by a notice.

Proper ID required: In each of these allowable in-person contacts, 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?

Be polite. It might be a real IRS visit. In that case, there's no need to tick off the tax man.

Ask to see the person's ID badges. Plural. The versions described earlier in this post.

If you have any doubts about the identity of the person or the ostensible 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.

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.

Taylor Swift closing door on John Travolta_Giphy

Then lock it. Then call the police and the IRS.

What a real IRS agent won't do: 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.

Neither will a real IRS agent ask for payment be made in an unusual form, such as prepaid debit or gift cards.

And an IRS employee will never, ever 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.

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