Receiving mail with the IRS listed in the envelope’s upper left corner induces fear in most people. Receiving a phone call with the IRS listed on caller ID is even scarier. Fear can cause you to act before you think—many people fall for criminal scams out of fear. Don’t be one of them.

Bottom line: The IRS does not phone taxpayers or communicate via email. The IRS does not allow you to pay taxes with gift cards. If you receive an unsolicited telephone call from anyone claiming to be from the IRS, or to be working on behalf of the IRS, hang up. If you receive an email claiming to be from the IRS, forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

The IRS is a large, cumbersome bureaucracy, slow to change its ways. Like most bureaucracies, it continues to live on paper. If the IRS questions something on your tax return—the first step in a lengthy process that must occur before it can act to collect money from you—it will send you a letter. The letter will ask you to respond—also by letter. The IRS’s letter contains the name of someone you can call, with an 800 number. It does not have that person’s—or anyone else’s—email address. You cannot email the IRS about your tax situation, and it won’t email you.

Sign Up for E-News

Here’s what has to happen before the IRS can raid your bank account:  it must send you at least one letter you ignore or don’t answer to its satisfaction. Then it must send you another letter, called a Notice of Deficiency, saying it has determined you owe taxes. That letter gives you 90 days to go to a special Tax Court and ask it to consider your situation. If you don’t go to Tax Court within 90 days, the IRS can begin collection proceedings. If you go to Tax Court, the IRS cannot collect back taxes until the case is resolved—and the court determines, or you agree in writing, that you owe taxes.  

Even after all that, the collection process takes time. Nothing with the IRS happens quickly.  

If that process hasn’t happened, the communication is bogus. On its web site, the IRS pledges that its employees will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail you a bill if you owe any taxes.

  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.

  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

Better yet, you can check on the IRS’s web site to see if it lists you as owing unpaid taxes. Navigate to IRS.gov, and choose “payments” from the menu across the top. Towards the bottom of the page is a section called “Check Your Balance Due.” You can click to check your outstanding tax balance online. You’ll need the following information to retrieve that figure:

  • Your Social Security Number, date of birth, filing status and mailing address from latest tax return

  • Access to your email account

  • Your personal account number from a credit card, mortgage, home equity loan, home equity line of credit or car loan

  • A mobile phone with your name on the account

The IRS web site has useful general information as well. Right in the center of its home page is information about tax scams. Read up and see if something looks familiar. Tax season is stressful enough without also becoming the victim of a crime.

Note: Claire E. Toth, JD, MLT, CFP™, is Vice President at Point View Wealth Management, Inc., a registered investment advisor at 382 Springfield Ave., Summit. Visit us at  www.ptview.com. CNBC has twice named Point View to its list of the top 100 American fee-only wealth managers.  See http://www.cnbc.com/id/101619698  

Point View Wealth Management, Inc. works with families in Summit and beyond, providing customized portfolio management services and comprehensive financial planning, to develop and achieve their financial goals. We are independent and fee only.  How can we help you?  Contact David Dietze (ddietze@ptview.com), Claire Toth (ctoth@ptview.com), or John Petrides (jpetrides@ptview.com) or call (908) 598-1717 to learn how.