There’s really no low that scammers won’t stoop to, and that includes impersonating the IRS. While that’s a serious federal crime here in the United States, many of the scammers doing this are based outside the country. Fortunately, that means they have little knowledge of local laws and customs and will make a lot of mistakes that you can spot.

If you see any of the following things in a supposed communication from the IRS, it’s a sure sign that it’s a scam attempt.

Threats of Incarceration
While the IRS does at times press charges and arrest people for tax evasion (see Wesley Snipes for a famous example), those are very rare and extreme cases. The government does not want to arrest citizens for falling behind on taxes and will try very hard to avoid doing so, including making multiple offers of payment plans and settlements before resorting to an arrest.

One thing they will never do under any circumstances is call you up on the phone and threaten to arrest you. Scammers have taken to doing this, however. If someone claiming to be from the IRS calls you up and starts talking about charges or incarceration, they’re not really from the IRS.

Any Phone Call From The IRS Is Suspect
The IRS does occasionally call citizens, but only in unusual cases and only to schedule an audit. They also will not do this unless they have sent letters first and received no response.

The IRS never attempts to collect debts by phone. They only issue notices of unpaid taxes through the mail. If you get a phone call claiming to be from the IRS and they start talking about your debt amounts and making payments, it’s a scam.

The IRS Does Not Use Email or Text Messaging
The IRS does not communicate with you by email, social media, instant messaging or text messaging. If it’s more modern than a telephone, they don’t use it. Anyone contacting you via these channels is scamming.

The IRS Only Accepts Checks, Credit or Debit Cards For Tax Payments
The IRS doesn’t take mailed cash, cash brought to anyone in person, PayPal or similar e-wallet payments, or gift cards. Scammers requesting gift card payments are becoming increasingly common as it is much harder for investigators to trace these after the fact.

They do now allow you to pay your federal income taxes with a credit or debit card, however, but only through select payment processors listed at the website. If someone tries to get you to pay with a card at a different source, it’s a scam. Watch out for email links that appear to be from the IRS and lead to the website as well; these are easy to “spoof” to make them look official and legitimate, and remember, the IRS doesn’t solicit you by email!

if you’re unclear about whether a communication is a scam attempt, it’s best to contact the IRS to clarify. You can reach them by phone at 800-829-1040.