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Facing fear of the IRS head-on

Just a phone call from the Internal Revenue Service is enough to generate anxiety in a person. And when the IRS call includes threats of prison and large fines, the anxiety can quickly turn to fear.

You have probably seen the many articles in Orlando news media and national outlets about a scam in which people pretend to be IRS agents. They issue loud threats and can sometimes wring Social Security numbers and credit card information from unsuspecting taxpayers. The widespread success of the scam demonstrates the fear Americans have of the agency.

People who receive genuine calls from real IRS agents have good reason to be concerned. The agency is famous for its relentless, methodical pursuit of taxpayers it believes have committed crimes such as tax evasion, filing false returns, failure to properly collect taxes, failure to comply with tax laws regarding offshore holdings and other charges.

Fortunately, those under investigation have, in many situations, ample time to contact an attorney who not only knows tax law, but is also experienced in defending criminal tax crimes. In some cases, the attorney can help a client correct oversights, errors or misunderstandings and avoid criminal charges entirely. In other cases, an attorney might be able to pre-empt charges by a thorough defense investigation to convince federal prosecutors that the client should not be charged.

When an IRS criminal investigator contacts a person for an interview, it's typically because the agency has already carried out an extensive investigation and the agent believes criminal tax violations have occurred. That makes those interviews crucial: every word is weighed and an inadvertent misstatement can do enormous damage. Often the IRS criminal investigator will show up at the person's home, without an appointment, in the hopes that the person will talk without a lawyer.

It's vital that taxpayers understand they have the right to legal counsel before, during and after those interviews in which your rights, your freedom and your assets can be at stake. The prudent course of action is for a person to advise the IRS criminal investigator that he or she will not talk to the agent without an attorney.