Scam letters purporting to be from the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are trying con cryptocurrency taxpayers and others out of their funds.

According to a Forbes report published on Aug. 5, bogus letters are attempting to capitalize on the public’s lack of familiarity with legitimate IRS correspondence and soliciting payments by using threats of enforcement action against them, among other tactics.

F is for fake

Among the strategies used by the IRS scammers, some letters claim that a warrant has been claimed against the recipient due to their unpaid tax obligations. Failure to make a payment immediately, they go on to falsely claim, could result in an arrest or other criminal action. 

Other bogus letters make use of bona fide information relating to recipients’ actual tax debts — such as liens filed against them — further bolstering their false sheen of authenticity.

Yet as Forbes notes, tax-related data such as liens are made publicly available — meaning there is no reason to trust these letters any more than others. 

One scam reportedly warns the recipient of taxes owed to the so-called “Bureau of Tax Enforcement” — an agency that is itself a fake, as the IRS itself has cautioned.

Aside from letters, thieves are also demanding bogus payments on the phone — another practice that, as Forbes notes, is never used by the legitimate IRS. Neither will the agency threaten — in writing or by phone — to arrest or deport taxpayers.

Distinguishing fake IRS letters

To help taxpayers navigate these risks, Forbes provides a list of characteristics that can help distinguish a bonafide IRS letter from a fake. 

These include the inclusion of a notice or letter number, use of a government envelope and IRS seal, a 1-800 contact number for the agency and a note of the recipient’s truncated tax ID number and tax years in question. 

As recently reported, the prevalence of such scams comes at a time when the — real — IRS is sending letters to crypto investors to clarify their crypto tax filing requirements and, in certain cases, compel them to pay back taxes. 

Some tax attorneys have however argued that this recent wave of letters is likely to be a blanket campaign by the agency and is unlikely to be tied to any evidence that recipients have under-reported.