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The IRS's Investigative Team:

IRS InvestigationIRS Special Agent, Revenue Agent, and Revenue Officer

In fiscal year 2012, the IRS’s Criminal Investigation initiated 5,125 investigations.(1) Of those, 2,466 individuals were sentenced. Among those sentenced, 81.5% served prison time.

Much of the investigatory work on citizens and residents is done by three types of IRS employees. Below is a short description of each of them.

IRS Special Agent

The IRS Special Agent is essentially an accountant with a gun. The IRS describes its Special Agents as “forensic accountants searching for evidence of criminal conduct.”(2) The skills used by Special Agents include the use of “specialized forensic technology to recover financial data that may have been encrypted, password protected or hidden by other electronic means.” In other words, IRS Special Agents have computer hacking skills which they, when authorized to do so, may utilize to obtain access to very private and personal information. Other techniques include conducting surveillance, executing search warrants, subpoenaing bank records, and interviewing people about the individual being investigated.

In addition, the IRS Special Agent is not limited to just tax issues. According to the IRS, it is “not unusual for a financial investigation to uncover motives for other serious crimes such as corruption, embezzlement, extortion or even murder.”

IRS Revenue Agent

The IRS Revenue Agent works primarily from the civil side of the investigative process, in keeping with his or her training in “tax law, report writing, fraud detection, taxpayer relations, research and examination techniques.”(3)

In theory, the Revenue Agent is not supposed to be searching for evidence of criminal conduct. For that reason, a citizen or resident that is dealing with a Revenue Agent is unlikely to be given a Miranda warning. However, the Revenue Agent can still gather very incriminating evidence against you—all without warning you that you have the right to remain silent. This evidence can later be used in a criminal prosecution against you.

When the Revenue Agent sees “firm indications of fraud,” (s)he is supposed to refer you to a Special Agent for criminal investigation. But, that is a very subjective standard. The Special Agent often prefers that the Revenue Agent has “perfected” things and produced “hopefully a very good fraud referral product” prior to being assigned to investigate you.(4)

IRS Revenue Officer

The Revenue Officer is the first IRS representative that one is likely to encounter if one is experiencing tax issues; though sharing the auditing skills which all IRS investigators are trained in, he or she is essentially a collections agent. Accordingly, the Revenue Officer, like the Revenue Agent, is working primarily from the civil side of the fence. Again, though, as with the Revenue Agent, the Revenue Officer may collect information that can later be used against you in a criminal prosecution.

Are you under IRS investigation?

You might not know. There is no requirement for the IRS to inform you that you might be the “target” of an IRS Investigation. In fact, they often do not. If you suspect that you might be the “target” of an IRS investigation, you should feel quite concerned. However – despite the IRS’s vast resources and aggressive prosecution of criminal tax cases, you as an American citizen – or resident – still have very important Constitutional rights. Seeking a competent criminal tax defense attorney can be the first step in protecting your legal rights.

For more, see IRS Investigation, IRS Summons, White Collar Crime, Criminal Tax Evasion/Fraud or return Home.

(1) See‐Fiscal‐Years‐Trends‐in‐Investigations‐Criminal‐
Investigation‐%28CI%29 and‐Tax‐Stats‐‐‐Criminal‐

(2) See Mid-Career & Experienced: IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent Jobs with the IRS,

(3) See

(4) Criminal Tax Enforcement Hot Topics: The IRS Perspective, oral comments at the Webinar and Teleconference, American Bar Association, March 20, 2013.