Distraint Warrant Scams: How to Recognize and Avoid Them

When an IRS lien has been filed in your name, this information becomes public information. That means anyone has access to the amount you owe in taxes as well as your name and address. Often times, this results in mass mailings to people by tax relief companies as well as scammers.

We recently experienced a new scam, and we’d like to share it with you so you can avoid getting caught up in it. A client with whom we are working received a letter in the mail titled Distraint Warrant. It looked like this (client information has been redacted). The client was immediately concerned and contacted us to ask whether this was something to worry about.

On its face, it looks official. The letterhead includes an emblem that looks like the U.S. Treasury seal as well as references to a county judgment record office as a Letter ID, which are commonly used by the IRS. The body of the letter includes a dollar amount that may look familiar to you as that is the amount of the filed tax lien.

But, upon closer review, there are things that don’t add up about this letter. First, the IRS does not use anything called a Distraint Warrant. Their right to levy and distraint (a legal term) is sent to you with something called a Levy Notice (you can read more about that here). Second, the IRS Letter IDs do not look like the one used here. The number is far too long and not consistent with actual identifications used by the IRS. Third, the 15 day requirement to respond is not one that is used in IRS collection rules.

Upon receiving this, we immediately let the client know that it was not something to be concerned about. Out of curiosity one of our tax professionals called the number on the letter. Someone answered with a simple Hello. We asked who we were speaking with and the person hung up. So, our tax professional called back. This time, the person answered with the name of a tax resolution firm, the name of which was difficult to understand. When our tax professional asked for clarification, the person hung up again. We tried calling a third time and the number was suddenly disconnected.

This is the exact M.O. of a scam. It is likely that if the taxpayer had called the number out of fear asking about the letter, the scammer would have attempted to convince him to make a payment. The money would’ve been taken and never applied to the tax debt. Even worse, the taxpayer may have been convinced to give a social security number and/or bank account information, leading to having his identity stolen.

This, of course, can be very scary. Please remember that the IRS does not require you to give them payments over the phone. The IRS requires payments to be made to the U.S. Department of Treasury and does not take payment by cashier’s check, in the form of gift cards, or wire transfer.

We invite you to call us first if you ever have a question about the legitimacy of a mailing you’ve received. Also, if you suspect you are the victim of a scam, report it to the IRS by either calling 1-800-366-4484 or visiting the US Treasury website. Consider calling your local police so it is aware of the scam as often times communities are targeted all at once.

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Have questions about what you just read? Or, interested in scheduling a meeting? Contact us with your questions or to schedule an appointment.

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