How to Respond If the IRS Is at Your DoorIdentity theft related to tax scams remain a serious issue. While the Internal Revenue Service notes that fraudulent emails and phone calls from imposters who claim to be representatives of the IRS rank highest on the list of current tax-related scams, there are sometimes when the IRS will legitimately contact you. In some cases, an IRS representative may even show up at your doorstep.

Here are some reasons the IRS may pay you a visit, and how to respond if they do.

What Might Bring the IRS to Your Home

When the IRS needs to contact you, it will generally initiate the conversation by postal mail. If you don’t respond to the letter, the IRS generally will continue to send letters by mail.

If the IRS still isn’t able to reach you, they may decide to pay you a visit. Typically, the visit will be related to a matter of unpaid tax bills or tax returns that haven’t been filed.  If the tax matter is related to a business tax return, the IRS may also appear in investigating matters related to an audit, or in some cases, a criminal investigation or suspected fraud.

How to Respond If the IRS Comes Knocking

Ask for Identification

An IRS representative will provide two forms of official credentials. A pocket commission is the first form of identification; the other is an HSPD-12. If the person at your door does not present these to you, it’s your legal right to ask for them.

Verify That the Identification is Valid

If the person does provide the necessary credentials, the IRS has a dedicated phone line you can call to verify that a person’s HSPD-12 card is valid. Ask the representative to provide you with the telephone number to confirm his or her identity before you provide any information.

Determine Why the IRS Is Contacting You

If the IRS is at your door due to an audit, you’ve probably already received some communication about it. Generally, IRS employees conducting audits will first notify taxpayers of the issue by mail. Later, they may call to make an audit appointment.

You do need to respond to the IRS’ correspondence about an audit in a timely manner. However, you do not need to handle the process alone. In fact, the IRS agent cannot have you arrested or otherwise punished if you refuse to speak to them. However, one exception is if they see you committing a crime.

You have a legal right to representation in the United States—including when you are subject to an audit or suspected of criminal taxpayer activity.  If you do not want to deal directly with the IRS, tell the agent (politely) that they can contact your attorney. If you don’t have one, retain a lawyer who specializes in working with the IRS. He or she can meet with the IRS about the audit on your behalf, and negotiate an arrangement for you.

Know Your Rights with Collections Agencies

In some cases, the person at your door might be a private debt collector working on behalf of the IRS.  Though an IRS collection employee is legally allowed to come to your home or business unannounced to collect on the debt, they must abide by the Fair Debt Practices Collection Act.  Aside from mandating that debt collectors treat taxpayers with courtesy and respect, the FDPCA states that debt collectors cannot harass or threaten you about money owed.

You do not have to answer any questions they have for you about the debt, nor do you have to open the door to them. They have the legal option to sue you for funds owed in turn. However, they cannot force you to make payment, or even have a conversation.

When making payments to the IRS for back taxes, make the check out to the U.S. Treasury and send it directly to the IRS—not the collection agency.