Is that phone call really from the IRS?

Short answer, “Not exactly.”

As a general rule, the IRS does not call taxpayers on the telephone. It does not initiate audits by phone, and it does not make collection calls. The IRS typically begins correspondence with taxpayers by regular mail (not email).

However, if you read my blog post yesterday, you know that this month the IRS is going to start using private debt collection firms. That may mean that taxpayers with accounts in collection may receive telephone calls. The four companies that the IRS has selected are

  • CBE Group – Cedar Falls, Iowa
  • Conserve – Fairport, N.Y.
  • Performant – Livermore, California
  • Pioneer – Horseheads, N.Y.

If you receive a telephone call about past due taxes from one of these companies, it is likely to be legitimate. However, you should always be suspicious of any unsolicited communication that asks for personal or financial information or demands payment.

The IRS has said that it will inform all taxpayers that are going to be transferred to a private collection agency, or PCA, in writing. The letter will also include a publication, Publication 4518, What You Can Expect When the IRS Assigns Your Account to a Private Collection Agency.

In Publication 4518, the IRS says that the PCA will send taxpayers a letter initiating their activity. The letter will include an authentication code.

How can I be sure it is the private collection agency calling me?

The private collection agency will send you a letter confirming assignment of your tax account. The letter will include the same unique taxpayer authentication number that is on the letter sent to you from the IRS. As part of the authentication process the PCA employee will use the unique number for identity verification. Keep both letters in a safe place for future reference.

Be sure to read the letter from the IRS and Publication 4518 very carefully so that you will be familiar with the collection process and can preserve your rights. You may also want to read Publication 594, The IRS Collection Process. You should also consult with a tax professional such as a CPA, Enrolled Agent (EA), or an attorney.

IRS Private Debt Collectors

Beginning this month the IRS is going to begin using private companies to collect debt. The IRS will assign taxpayer accounts to one of four private companies. The companies are:

  1. CBE Group – Cedar Falls, Iowa
  2. Conserve – Fairport, N.Y.
  3. Performant – Livermore, California
  4. Pioneer – Horseheads, N.Y.

Reportedly, the IRS will only assign taxpayer accounts to private collectors after multiple attempts to collect. The IRS describes the process as follows.

The IRS will always notify a taxpayer before transferring their account to a private collection agency (PCA). First, the IRS will send a letter to the taxpayer and their tax representative informing them that their account is being assigned to a PCA and giving the name and contact information for the PCA. This mailing will include a copy of Publication 4518, What You Can Expect When the IRS Assigns Your Account to a Private Collection Agency.

If you owe the IRS and you have not been responsive to collection efforts, you may want to be on the lookout for this correspondence from the IRS. Even if you don’t owe the IRS, you should be alert. Remember that a common scam is when someone impersonates the IRS or other official. This adds a new potential wrinkle. Scammers can now claim to be private collectors representing the IRS. In the past, this would have been an obvious red flag.

As always, if you have any doubts about tax-related correspondence, you should contact a professional. If you receive an unsolicited call or mail, do not give out personal information. Do not agree to anything, and do not provide banking or financial information. If you receive a suspicious letter, be sure to check it out using known addresses and telephone numbers before you respond.