Debt collectors now making IRS collections make scams harder to spot

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) -- Now that the deadline has passed for filing taxes, it's prime time for crooks who are looking to take your money with phony IRS tax scams.

There are many variations of the scams the bad guys are using to steal your money.

To add to the confusion, the IRS is now allowing debt collectors to call you on their behalf say you owe back taxes, so how do you separate the scammers from the real deal?

The first thing you should remember, if the call comes out of the blue it's a scam.

Recently, a police officer with Hillsborough Police got a call from a fake IRS agent.

The phone call said it was the IRS and they were going to arrest the guy for not paying back taxes.

Hillsborough Police Lt. Andy Simmons spent nearly 20 minutes talking to the scammer -- the whole time getting him to reveal many of the techniques they use to get your money.

He then placed a recording of the call on the police department's Facebook page as a warning to consumers

Lt. Simmons says there are several clues that let you know you are dealing with a faker.

The most obvious clue is background noise, Simmons said.

"You can tell they're in a massive call center - you can hear the exact same phone calls in the background going on at the same time all over the place," he said.

Also, the caller will ask you for personal information like address, phone number, and social security number. A real IRS agent would already have that information from your tax return.

The U.S. Inspector General says that since 2013 nearly 2 million people have been called by fake IRS agents and have lost an estimated $55million to scammers.

For years the IRS has promoted the fact it would never call taxpayers to deal with a tax issue. But changes in federal law now allow private debt collectors to call people who owe back taxes.

Here's how a legitimate collection is supposed to work:

  • The IRS will notify taxpayers my letter first when their account is being turned over to a third-party debt collector.
  • The collection agency assigned to your case will then send you a letter.
  • The collection agency will then call you to discuss payment up her options.

But, consumer advocates say it's a bad idea.

"Unfortunately the IRS is creating a system with more people who are vulnerable will be taken advantage of. It makes no sense on policy grounds or budgetary grounds," said Ira Rheingold, the executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. "It's going to cause havoc for consumers."

Under the program, the IRS get 75 percent of what is recovered and the collection agency gets the other 25 percent.

Bottom line, if you do not get a letter from the IRS saying that a collection agency will call you, then the phone call you get is a scam.

The IRS has a webpage explaining it all.

Here is the audio of the Hillsborough police recording of a scammer calling.

Email CBS North Carolina's Steve Sbraccia if you have a consumer issue.

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