Calls from IRS-approved collection agencies may be confused with notorious tax scam

Posted at 6:16 PM, Apr 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-29 21:01:10-04

There's now a chance that the phone call you receive about owing the IRS money isn't a scam.

Effective this month, the IRS will hand off overdue accounts to four collection agencies who may inform taxpayers of back taxes over the phone.

RELATED: IRS warns of top 3 tax scams

The Better Business Bureau is concerned the move will create confusion after years of warning consumers to not believe phone calls from people claiming to collect money on behalf of the IRS and demanding payment immediately.

"Many of these phone calls were very threatening. They would say we're going to arrest you, we're coming to your place of work right now. They were very intimidating and they were designed to say you owe back taxes," said Angie Barnett, the president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Greater Maryland.

The Justice Department estimates that the IRS tax scam has duped more than 15,000 people and generated more than $300 million. 

See also: 5 common tax return mistakes to avoid

Barnett said taxpayers will now need to be vigilant in deciphering whether a call is from one of the four collection agencies or if it's a scammer. 

"Scammers are going to capitalize on this by going out, calling saying they are from the legitimate ones and again, we're assuming the ploy will be no different. They'll still be asking you to settle the debt with the IRS today by sending money electronically or with a green dot [prepaid] card," Barnett said.

The IRS is warning people that they will first notify the taxpayer with a letter that provides the name and contact information for the private collection agency. A taxpayer will be assigned to one of these four groups: CBE Group; Conserve; Performant; or Pioneer. 

They're also aware the new process could create opportunity for scam artists. Their advice is that if someone owes back taxes they will already know it.

"Think, have I received notice from the IRS by mail in the past? Call the IRS directly and speak to an agent at the IRS before you engage in any conversation with a debt collector. And if you have never received notice in the past of owing any taxes I would hang up immediately," said Barnett.

How the caller demands payment can also be a red flag. If it's real, you'll be asked to pay the IRS directly and never the private collection agency.

The IRS will also never ask for money through a prepaid debit card or through certain wire transfer companies.

There have been several arrests in the IRS phone scam. Last weekend, the suspected ringleader was taken into custody in Mumbai, India. And back in October, the Justice Department charged more than 50 people and five call centers in India for their alleged involvement in the scam.

For more information on the IRS private collection program, click here.