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IRS Phone Calls: Tax Exam and Tax Collection

Posted on May 16, 2016

In light of Keith’s insightful post today regarding the challenges of placing calls to the IRS, here is a brief post regarding getting phone calls from the IRS or private debt collectors.

Phone Calls and Tax Exams

Articles in Tax Notes and Accounting Today  last week have confirmed that the IRS will no longer be making phone calls to initiate field exams. The change in practice comes in response to information at one of the NTA’s public forums a couple of weeks ago in Iowa when there were repeated complaints about phony IRS agents calling up people threatening imprisonment if the taxpayer did not make immediate payment.

I received two of those phone calls a few months ago, with the caller leaving a message saying “I am an officer from Criminal Investigation Headquarters from Washington DC. The reason for this call is that there is an arrest warrant made in the name of [my wife] Valinda Garcia.” About a day later another caller left a similar message asking for a return call to address the criminal warrant.

TIGTA has dedicated many resources to the issue, including a You Tube page with public service videos to assist taxpayers in knowing whether a phone call purporting to be from IRS is a fake, a form to report the calls, and a recent TIGTA announcement warning people to never pay taxes to anyone demanding payment in ITunes gift cards!

Earlier in the year, Commissioner Koskinen had stated that the IRS did not initiate contact with taxpayers by phone. That was generally true, but IRS policies did allow for phone contact to set up field exams. With the problem of phony IRS employee phone contacts still with us, initial phone contacts to set up a field examination are now no longer part of IRS practice.

Phone Calls and Private Debt Collectors

As Keith has discussed, last year’s highway bill requires the use of private debt collectors to collect inactive tax debts. The 2015 legislation allowed robocalls and texts by debt collectors of federal debt—primarily delinquent student loan borrowers but also taxpayers in the private debt collector’s crosshairs. Thus, one of the likely many unfortunate byproducts of this is that private debt collectors seeking to collect the federal debt will soon be allowed to send robocalls and texts to a consumer’s cell phone without their permission.

Earlier this month the FCC proposed rules that would extend some protections to those with federal debts, including the right to request that the collector stop calling. The National Consumer Law Center issued a statement last week publicizing those  FCC proposed rules with respect to the legislation.

“The FCC’s proposal to limit the number of robocalls and texts made without consent to three a month is a very strong consumer protection,” said National Consumer Law Center attorney Margot Saunders. “We are also glad to see that the proposal will count each initiated call as one call.” Consumers Union’s advocate Maureen Mahoney noted, “One of the most important proposed protections requires that callers obey consumers’ request to stop calling. Indeed, the proposal would require that debt collection callers notify consumers of this right to request that calls stop.” Alexis Goldstein, a Senior Policy Analyst with Americans for Financial Reform, applauded the FCC “for proposing to limit the rule to debts that are delinquent, which will prevent unwanted robocalls calls for accounts which are in good standing.”

The NCLC release notes that the limitations are not within the regulations but within the proposed reg narrative order rather than the rules itself, and it notes that advocates will be urging the FCC to adopt the limits in the final rules.

There is a good NBC news article from earlier in the year discussing the political support for the debt collection powers, as well as the criticism that advocates and others have raised in light of the increased scamming of Americans. While the FCC rules may help, as phony IRS calls continue to plague Americans we can only wait for the phone scammers to play off these private debt collection powers.

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