Starting in 2017 the Internal Revenue Service will start using private debt collection companies to assist in collecting any long-term and overdue tax bills. This notable change from the traditional procedure of only the IRS agents contacting taxpayers has caused the Better Business Bureau® of Central Oklahoma to issue an advisory to consumers to be prepared for how this could impact them.
BBB acknowledges that the IRS has placed safeguards in the process to help protect taxpayers from scammers. However, even with added precautions, taxpayers should take caution in the event they are ever contacted by a person who claims they are from the IRS.
“In 2016, 25 percent of scams reported to BBB in North America were Tax Scams totaling over 7500 reports,” said Kitt Letcher, president and CEO of BBB. “Oklahoma is no stranger to this type of scam and so we’ll be keeping a close eye on numbers locally as this change goes into effect,” she added.
Consumers should continue to exercise suspicion of any phone calls, emails or other contact they receive about owing taxes, without first receiving official letters from both the IRS and a debt collection company. According to the IRS, it will give each taxpayer written notice that their account is being transferred to a private collection agency. The agency will then send a second, separate letter to the taxpayer and their representative confirming the transfer.
Private collection agencies will be able to identify themselves as contractors of the IRS collecting taxes. BBB is emphasizing that employees of these collection agencies must follow the provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and must be courteous and respect taxpayer rights.
Among the factors that affect the IRS assigning an account to private collection agencies include older, overdue tax accounts; plus a lack of resources that prevents the IRS staff from working these cases. This action comes from the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, passed in December 2015, that states that the IRS is required to use third party, private collection contracts to collect long term, outstanding tax bills.
The IRS includes information about these changes on www.irs.gov, and encourages consumers to frequently check the “Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts” page on their site. However, whenever there is a change in any procedures, it opens opportunities for scammers to take advantage of consumer confusion and misunderstanding.
Since most scammers have long differed from official IRS communications in their use of phone calls and emails while the IRS has strictly communicated by letters through the postal mail, the confusion between official and potentially false information may increase with this change.
Better Business Bureau offers the following precautions to keep in mind, should a consumer receive a call about a past due account:
Taxpayers may also make complaints about a private collection agency or about the behavior of a specific employee to contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 800-366-4484, online at tigta.gov or in writing.
As always, the BBB Scam Tracker remains a reliable resource for consumer information and scam detection and reporting resources.