For years, scam prevention advocates have warned the IRS will not call your home, but the Better Business Bureau reported recently this advice is not always accurate.
“The IRS imposter scam has been the No. 1 most reported scam to (Better Business Bureau) the last two years,” Better Business Bureau Vice President of Communications Shelley Polansky says in a news release. “To help people in the community recognize a tax scam, we always gave the advice that the IRS will never call you to collect an outstanding tax debt.”
A federal law took effect in April allowing contractors to collect private debts for the government.
The change could mean people with overdue taxes are contacted by third-party collection agencies via telephone, which Polansky says could spread confusion and create an opportunity for scammers.
Despite the game-changing law, there are still several methods of detecting the legitimacy of a tax debt call.
“According to the IRS, people with overdue taxes will always receive multiple contacts, including letters and phone calls, from the IRS first,” Polansky says. “The IRS will also always notify taxpayers before sending their accounts to a private collection agency.”
“It’s important to note, consumers aren’t going to be turned over to these agencies unless they are extremely past due”
“If the consumer has moved in the last couple of years, it’s important that they contact the IRS to make sure the call is legitimate in case they were being sent mail to the wrong address.”
Laramie Police Department Public Information Officer Lt. Gwen Smith said scammer calls usually come in waves.
“We get them pretty regularly,” Smith said. “One of the things we recommend, if you get a call from an unknown number — especially from an area out of Wyoming — there is no reason to answer the call. If it is a legitimate call, they will leave a voicemail.”
Because the calls are logged as suspicious activity, a category that spans a variety of incidents, Smith said it was hard to quantify how many scams were reported at any given time.
Smith said a list of tips for avoiding an IRS scam provided by Polansky was on par with the information LPD offers people in a potential scam situation.
Polansky’s list includes:
— The IRS and the private debt collection company will both send a letter to the taxpayer first. If a person receives a call without knowledge of a tax debt, it could be a scam.
— Private debt collectors are able to identify themselves as contractors of the IRS collecting taxes and must comply with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Like IRS employees, they must be courteous and respect taxpayers’ rights. If the caller yells, curses or threatens to have you arrested, it is not a legitimate collector.
“These private debt collectors will not ask for credit card or money over the phone,” Smith said. “If they do, hang up. It’s a scam.”
Go to www.irs.gov/payments for IRS debt payment options, account balance and payment history.