Meet the IRS: What Is a Criminal Investigation Special Agent?

You’ve never met a criminal investigation special agent before. But believe it or not, you actually interact with the IRS quite frequently.

You may always be interacting with them directly, but you’re nearly always engaging with the IRS in some way: through your employer’s withholding from your paychecks, when you make your quarterly tax payments, and when you file your taxes.

For most taxpayers, the interactions stop there. Or, at least until they run into a tax issue.

Whether it’s something as simple as being audited or as complex as tax fraud, your first time dealing with the IRS will nearly always be frightening. And even more intimidating than a letter, your first time interacting with an IRS representative is sure to be something that stays with you.

With that in mind, we’re answering your most pressing questions about IRS representatives. So, read on to learn everything you might need to know about IRS special agents.

What is an IRS special agent?

IRS Special Agents represent the Criminal Investigations department of the IRS. Unlike other IRS representatives, such as the revenue officers and revenue agents who deal with audits or collections, special agents work to investigate potential tax crimes and make recommendations about criminal prosecution.

When does the IRS send a criminal investigation special agent?

For common tax issues, such as tax audits or tax debt, you’ll probably never interact with an IRS special agent. The IRS will only send a special agent to investigate suspected tax crimes, such as tax evasion or tax fraud.

Commonly, criminal investigations are initiated after a revenue officer or revenue agent has come to suspect a taxpayer has committed fraud. They may discover this during an audit of a tax return, an in-person audit, or during a collections effort. A criminal investigation may also be initiated if the IRS receives a tip from a person who knows or suspects you have committed fraud or tax evasion. The IRS may also decide to open a criminal investigation if they receive information from another law enforcement agency.

There are a number of internal steps the IRS will have to take before they send someone into the field. If they receive the proper approvals to continue their criminal investigation, an IRS special agent will move forward.

What does a special agent do when they visit?

When an IRS special agent comes to perform a criminal investigation, they may turn up in a number of places: your work, your home, or somewhere else entirely. Their primary directive is to obtain evidence that demonstrates the suspected crime has occurred.

A special agent will perform a number of actions, from surveillance of the suspect to witness interviews. If they have a search warrant, they may enter and search your home, car, computer, or business. This may result in the seizure of financial data, like bank or financial records, travel information, or anything else relevant to the investigation.

After a thorough investigation has been performed, an IRS agent will determine whether there is enough evidence to prove a crime. If there isn’t, the agent will recommend the investigation be discontinued. If there is, a team at the IRS will collectively determine whether to send the case to the appropriate prosecutor.

What should I do if a criminal investigation special agent visits?

If an IRS special agent contacts you, you’ll be much more likely to reveal information you might not otherwise. That’s why it’s smart to contact an attorney rather than answer a special agent’s questions on their first visit.

As this is a part of a criminal investigation, you have the right to an attorney. Even if you are completely innocent (as we hope), an attorney will help you understand what information you need to provide to assist the investigation while ensuring your rights are protected.

Remember: Special agents are there to collect information that might help their investigation. They aren’t there to arrest you. Get in touch with a professional and let the investigation run its course; if you’re innocent, the special agent will most likely come to that conclusion by the end of the investigation.

Meet a special agent? It’s time to get help.

The thought of ending up in jail is frightening for a reason. If you’re the subject of an IRS criminal investigation, it will cross your mind at some point. Don’t let IRS issues frighten you—get help.

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