PhotoIf you owe the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) back taxes and despite repeated reminders, still haven't gotten around to writing a check, expect a call from a debt collector.

The IRS has started sending letters to what it calls “a relatively small group” of taxpayers who are severely delinquent. The letters will explain that the IRS has turned the account over to one of four private debt collection agencies.

The IRS says the delinquent accounts are old and multiple attempts have been made in the past to collect them. Still, this effort could pose dangers for a wide range of consumers if scammers seize on this development.

“The IRS is taking steps throughout this effort to ensure that the private collection firms work responsibly and respect taxpayer rights,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “The IRS also urges taxpayers to be on the lookout for scammers who might use this program as a cover to trick people. In reality, those taxpayers whose accounts are assigned as part of the private collection effort know they have a tax debt.”

How to avoid a scam

That last part is key. Koskinen says the people who will receive calls from these legitimate debt collectors are well aware that they have an unpaid tax debt. They have dealt with IRS personnel on this issue in the past.

That means if you are unaware that you owe the IRS money and get a call from someone claiming to be a debt collector, the IRS says you are being targeted by a scammer and should hang up.

Okay, this bears repeating. If you are unaware that you owe back taxes and someone calls you claiming you do, you don't. It's that simple.

Letter from the IRS

The collection program began this week and the people who owe the money should have received a letter from the IRS, telling them to expect a call. If you didn't get one of these letters, you don't owe any money.

Here's another clue – the IRS says people who owe money will always be contacted by the tax agency first, before they are ever contacted by a debt collector. So if the IRS hasn't contacted you, neither should a debt collector.

The IRS reiterates that taxpayers should be vigilant for scammers posing as private collection firms. The IRS said it will also be watching for these schemes as the collection program begins.

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