A reader is both scared and suspicious after receiving an email.

Question: I got an email from the IRS saying I owe $29.12. The subject of the email was “IRS CP-2000,” and when I searched that online, I saw that this is a real thing. But it just looks so suspicious. It says I have 30 days to pay this amount or I could get audited or even arrested. So I need some help fast! It’s not a huge amount of money, but still, it’s MY money.

If Trump wins, no free college. In that case, I might wait longer to save up more money. So my question is: Should I wait until summer to sign up?

— Claire in Virginia

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

It’s that time of year when the weather turns and the IRS scams blossom. The most successful scammers add just a touch of truth to their lies – and this particular tax scam is repeated each year because it’s based on a real IRS letter.

To keep it from getting complicated, the easiest way to explain it is in this short video…

On-screen text: Debt.com presents: Real or Fake? How to Spot the Latest IRS scam.

Voiceover: This is Oscar. He’s panicking because he just got an email from the IRS.

Oscar: You are now in receipt of IRS notice CP-2000. The Internal Revenue Service has found a discrepancy in your 2015 tax return. You have 30 days to remit $329.12 by mailing a check to the IRS.

Voiceover: But it’s not really from the IRS. How can you tell? Debt.com chairman Howard Dvorkin points out the most obvious sign.

Howard Dvorkin: There is a real form that the IRS uses, which is the CP-2000. They mail it to you. They’re very old-school in their practices and procedures. Typically, the CP-2000 informs the taxpayer that there’s a difference between what was submitted on your tax return and what they believe your true tax liability is.

Oscar: So what is a CP-2000?

Howard Dvorkin: The CP-2000 is a notification. It comes through the mail. It doesn’t get emailed to you and certainly, the IRS doesn’t call and say, “Hey, you owe some money.”

Oscar: Is it real, then?

Howard Dvorkin: Any time that somebody encourages you to make a payment, the antenna should go up. And certainly when they say “wire me the money” or “get me a money order,” that’s not how the United States government works. They take your check. But the fact of the matter is, you have time to evaluate the situation, investigate the situation. Nothing is a rush.

Oscar: If this is a scam, why would they ask for so little money? And that specific amount?

Howard Dvorkin: Typically, the people involved in these scams are very well-versed and they understand the numbers. Even at $300 per hit, they’re making tens of thousands of dollars. So they don’t have to ask for a lot of money.

Voiceover: If you receive an email like Oscar did, go to this website or call this number to report it.

On-screen text: www.treasury.gov/tigta 1-800-366-4484

Voiceover: For more information on preventing all kinds of online theft, visit Debt.com.

On-screen text: For more information visit: www.debt.com

Just to stress what’s at the end of the video: If you receive a suspicious IRS letter, go to the U.S. Treasury’s scam alert webpage to learn more. You can also call 800-366-4484 to report it. If you’re concerned about these a tax scam in general, and about identity theft in particular, I suggest you read Debt.com’s report on Identity Theft Basics.

What if I receive a 4883C letter? Is that a tax scam?

If you receive a 4883C letter in the mail, it’s not a scam. In fact, the IRS sends out these letters to warn taxpayers about potential identity theft. It means they’ve flagged your account as possibly having a fraudulent tax return. Once you get this letter, follow these instructions on the IRS website so they can verify your identity.

Do you owe a lot to the IRS and fear you won’t get caught up? Take a look at our solutions.

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About the Author

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Howard Dvorkin, CPA

I’m a certified public accountant who has authored two books on getting out of debt, Credit Hell and Power Up, and I am one of the personal finance experts for Debt.com. I have focused my professional endeavors in the consumer finance, technology, media and real estate industries creating not only Debt.com, but also Financial Apps and Start Fresh Today, among others. My personal finance advice has been included in countless articles, and has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Forbes and Entrepreneur as well as virtually every national and local newspaper in the country. Everyone should have a reason for living that’s bigger than themselves, and besides my family, mine is this: Teaching Americans how to live happily within their means. To me, money is not the root of all evil. Poor money management is. Money cannot buy happiness, but going into debt always buys misery. That’s why I launched Debt.com. I’m glad you’re here.

Published by Debt.com, LLC