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Communicating with the IRS: the important role of letters

Letters are a remarkably durable form of communication, with roots dating back into the ancient world. They were a medium of exchange that flourished for centuries, from the epistles of the New Testament to the love letters of the Romantic era and beyond.

But the increase in electronic options for connecting with others has greatly affected the use of letters for many of us. Phone calls, e-mail, social media - all seem much more immediate than an old-fashioned letter.

But there is at least one context in which letters are still the preferred format. If the IRS has to communicate with you about a tax issue, the contact will be by letter. It won't be a phone call, an e-mail or a social media message.

Lack of awareness of this is evident in the frequent scams that occur where fraudsters try to get people to give up personal information. The scammers try to do this by claiming to be calling or e-mailing from the IRS - and sometimes by making threats of lawsuits or even jail.

Commissioner John Koskinen tried to reassure people last week about how the IRS goes about its business. As NPR reported, he reiterated that when the IRS needs to contact taxpayers, it does so by letter, not by phone calls or e-mail.

Of course, getting a letter from the IRS can be a rather stressful experience too. For example, as we discussed in our August 6 post last year, you might get a letter about a correspondence audit.

If that happens, you need to be prepared to respond. But in the meantime, spread the word about avoiding IRS phone or e-mail scams.

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