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Preventing IRS scams more difficult with third-party collectors

Last week, we wrote that IRS-related tax scams have risen by 400 percent this year. In response to the high rate of scammers claiming to represent the IRS, the real IRS has been trying to educate the public about what the agency's actual protocols are for collecting tax debt.

But here's where things get complicated. Although the Internal Revenue Service is trying to establish consistency and taxpayer trust in order to cut down on scams, Congress recently passed a measure requiring the IRS to contract with private debt-collection companies. This means that third parties will now be attempting to collect back taxes from some taxpayers at perhaps the worst possible time.

So how do we differentiate between a company hired by the IRS and a scammer claiming to be affiliated with agency? In today's post, we'll offer three guidelines that will hopefully help.

Guideline #1: Always check your mail before trusting calls from the IRS or its third-party collectors. The IRS almost always sends mail to delinquent taxpayers before trying to contact them on the phone. Third-party collectors will likely follow the same protocol. If the first contact you receive is a phone call, you should be very suspicious of who is actually calling.

Guideline #2: Never make payments over the phone. Even though the IRS will be working with third-party debt collectors, all payments must be directly processed by the IRS. No IRS agent or affiliated third party should ask for payments to be made over the phone (this just does not happen). If someone on the other end of the phone asks for your bank account information or credit/debit card number, you are almost certainly talking to a con artist.

Guideline #3: Do not give out sensitive personal information over the phone. The IRS already knows important information like your Social Security number. And any third-party collector working for the IRS would not need to ask for this information - even for "verification" purposes. Please do not give out sensitive, private information in a phone call.

As a final note, please remember that no tax matter is so urgent as to demand immediate action. If you are unsure about whether an IRS-related communication is legitimate, take the time to do your research. By going online, finding the phone number and calling the IRS directly, you should be able to verify whether a certain third-party collector is legitimate.

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