“In April, the IRS began a new private collection program of certain overdue federal tax debts, selecting four private collection agencies (PCA’s) to implement it.  Generally, the taxpayers whose accounts are given to these private collectors are people whom the IRS has contacted multiple times in the past several years and still have unpaid taxes, say IRS officials

Critics of the new program warn it could provide more opportunities for IRS imposters to perpetrate a long-running phone scam that has cost consumers millions.  You need to stay on the lookout for unexpected calls from anyone claiming to be collecting on behalf of the tax agency.  Here are some things to know to determine the difference between the real and a ruse.

SCAM SIGNS. Imposters trying to trick you typically run similar scams, so be aware of the signs.  Often these scam artists will:

  • Demand immediate payment of taxes with a prepaid debit credit, wire transfer, iTunes card or gift card.
  • Ask for your credit card or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Intimidate you and threaten to have you arrested for nonpayment.
  • Insist on payment without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they claim you owe.
  • Ask you to pay a collection agency or someone else directly.

Don’t respond to these tactics!  If you think you’ve been the victim of an IRS phone scam, here is what you can do:

  • Fill out the IRS impersonation scam form on the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) website (go to tigta.gov and click “Contact”) or call TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484.
  • File a consumer complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov. Add the words “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments in your complaint.

FIRST, A LETTER.  Before you receive phone calls from the IRS or a PCA, the IRS will first send a letter to you indicating that your account has been assigned to one of the four PCA’s.  The PCA will send you a letter to confirm.  Both of these letters will contain a unique 10-digit identifier used to conduct two-party verification between you and the PCA.  The letter will not contain your Social Security number.

Informational publication 4518, “What you Can Expect When the IRS Assigns Your Account to a Private Collection Agency,” answers questions about the program and is accessible on the IRS Website (search the aforementioned title).

FOUR AGENCIES.  The IRS is assigning cases to four private debt collection agencies: the CBE Group, ConServe, Performant Recovery and Pioneer Credit Recovery.  Your account will be assigned to one of these agencies.  No other private group is authorized to represent the IRS.  You won’t get a call from one of these agencies unless you’ve heard from the IRS first.

If you do not wish to work with the assigned PCA to settle your overdue tax account, you must submit a request in writing to that agency.  If you call the PCA and say you don’t want to work with them to settle your debt, under current procedures the agency must suspend all activity on your account for 60 days to allow you sufficient time to make a written request.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  PCA employees are required to be courteous and respect your rights as a taxpayer.  They must uphold the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (irs.gov/taxpayer-bill-of-rights) and follow provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and are essentially held to the same standards as IRS employees. They cannot threaten or intimidate you and are not authorized to take enforcement against you, like filing a tax lien or issuing a levy.

They are authorized to discuss your payment options, including setting up payment agreements.  Payment by check should be made directly to the IRS or the United States Treasury only.  For more information on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, search the Federal Trade Commission website.

To make a complaint about a private collection agency or to report misconduct by its employees contact TIGTA.  To report a threat, assault or attempted assault by a private collection agency employee, contact the TIGTA office of Investigations with responsibility for your geographic area.  For contact information, go to the TIGTA website, click on “Investigations” and then on “Office Locations.”

If you’re having tax problems and haven’t been able to resolve them on your own with the IRS, you may be eligible for help from the Taxpayer Advocate Service, and independent organization within the IRS that protects taxpayer’s rights.  For more information, visit taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov.

Unsure if you have unpaid tax debt?  Visit irs.gov/balancedue to check your account balance.”

-Amanda Horowitz