IRS Criminal Investigations: When an IRS Special Agent knocks at your door…

IRS Special Agents are part of the IRS’s Criminal Investigation department and have the authority to open, manage, and recommend criminal cases for investigation, indictment and prosecution for violations of the Internal Revenue Code and other financial crimes.[1] Criminal investigations can be initiated when a revenue agent (auditor) or revenue officer detects possible fraud, based on information from various sources including ongoing investigations, other law enforcement agents, or the U.S. Attorney’s offices.[2] In other words, if you've been contacted by IRS Special Agents, the IRS may be conducting a criminal investigation about you and/or your business, or may believe you and/or your business has committed a tax crime. Maximize your protection and get your best defense prepared early on.  A competent criminal tax attorney, rather than a traditional tax attorney, can provide critical advice, obtain information about the investigation not readily accessible or disclosed, and navigate through the investigation stage by using various tactics that help put you in the best position early on, should you be forced to end up in court.[3] If an IRS Special Agent knocks at your door, remember: do not communicate directly with them, even if you’re certain of your innocence.

Why? Not only are you not required to speak to these IRS Special Agents, unlike other law enforcement officials, but you also have the right to not incriminate yourself under the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.[4] You can simply tell the Special Agent that your attorney will be contacting them. In addition, hiring an attorney will immediately afford you protections that you otherwise would not have, such as confidentiality through various forms of the attorney-client privilege. However, these privileges can be inadvertently waived if you fail to timely assert those rights.[5]

Whether or not the IRS Special Agent insists you are merely a witness and not a target, the things you say may make them more interested in you and/or your business. Even if you’re a witness, as the investigation goes on, you could later become a target and your statements can be used against you.  Unbeknownst to you, your actions may constitute a crime, especially given the complexities of the Internal Revenue Code. Finally, it is important to remember that criminal investigations are regularly disguised as mere audits.

Rather than risking the possibility that your voluntary communication will increase the IRS Special Agent’s interest in you or help them build their case against you, do not speak to them directly and let an experienced criminal tax attorney be your voice and your best defense.


— By Keobopha Keopong, Esq., Barnes Law

Keo Keopong is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law in California.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.


[3] Barnes, Robert E. “The IRS Criminal Investigation Process from A to Z: How to Overcome the IRS By Asserting Your Civil Rights.”


[5] Barnes, Robert E. “The IRS Criminal Investigation Process from A to Z: How to Overcome the IRS By Asserting Your Civil Rights.”