IRS warns taxpayers not to fall for thieves posing as debt collectors
WASHINGTON – The IRS warned taxpayers Wednesday not to be duped by scammers posing as private debt collectors the agency has hired to chase unpaid tax debts.The Internal Revenue Service designed the debt collection program to minimize that risk “because we know what it’s like out there with regard to identity theft nowadays,” said Brady Bennett, IRS director of collection.But some critics of the program see so many pitfalls that they’re urging debtors to insist on negotiating payment directly with the IRS.The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents IRS employees and opposes the program, has even drafted a sample letter that taxpayers can send to opt out of the private collection program and demand that the IRS handle their case.The IRS plans to assign 12,500 accounts with unpaid tax debts to three private agencies beginning Sept. 7. About 40,000 accounts will be turned over by the end of the year. The IRS chose taxpayers who owe less than $25,000 and don’t dispute the debt.Anyone contacted by a private collection agency has the right, among others, to insist that only the IRS deal with their account. Bennett said he hoped few taxpayers with debts sent to private collectors would opt out.”The purpose of this program is to provide value to the American taxpayer. Those who don’t pay have an impact on everybody else who does,” he said. “We want this program to work, and we think we’ve designed the necessary security, privacy protections.”Among those protections, the IRS has done background checks and designed special training for collection agency employees working on the accounts.The IRS plans to give the collection agencies basic identifying and account information about the chosen taxpayers, including their names, addresses and Social Security numbers. The agencies do not have access to tax returns.The selected taxpayers will know their information has been given to a collection agency because they will get letters from the IRS that will name the company handling their debts. That letter will include information advising taxpayers of their rights.It will be followed by another from the collection agencies telling the taxpayers they will soon be contacted for payment. Those letters will specify the amount owed.The selected taxpayers can then expect a phone call or an additional letter from the collection agency requesting payment. The private collection agencies will try to locate taxpayers who have moved from the addresses or phone numbers the IRS has on record.Taxpayers uncertain about the process or wanting to verify the letters are legitimate can call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040.Identity thieves have posed as IRS agents in “phishing” schemes that use the tax agency’s logo to lure victims. The e-mail schemes are designed to dupe taxpayers into revealing personal financial information.The IRS does not communicate with taxpayers through e-mail, and it will not e-mail taxpayers about debts turned over to private collectors. The IRS also does not ask taxpayers for any passwords or PIN numbers that would allow the agency to access bank or credit card accounts.Bennett also cautioned taxpayers chosen for the debt collection effort to make any check or money order payable to the U.S. Treasury, not a private company, and to send the money to the IRS. The collection agencies have been told to provide addresses to the taxpayers they contact.Collection agencies can set up agreements to let taxpayers pay their debts in installments if they can be paid within three years.Taxpayers can also seek help from the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an office that helps people resolve problems with the IRS, at 1-877-ASK-TAS1.—On the Net:Internal Revenue Service: http://www.irs.govTaxpayer Advocate Service: http://www.irs.gov/advocate/index.htmlNTEU IRS Watch: http://www.nteuirswatch.org/
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