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The IRS Strikes Back Against Robocalls

Posted on Oct. 24, 2022

Very few issues would touch a red button like talking to a tax practitioner or a taxpayer trying to reach the IRS by phone. In recent years it has felt like Mission Impossible.

Last week the IRS began to take action to fight back against one of the problems facing the phone issue – robocalls by companies allowing their clients to reach the IRS via a pay for service contract. Les discussed this problem here following a Senate hearing which raised questions about this practice. Barbara Heggie also wrote about the problem in a guest post here which contains links to blog posts written by the National Taxpayer Advocate about the problem. Barbara’s post described not only the problems of getting through but the problems encountered even if you finally get through to one part of the IRS.

So now let’s talk about what may be changing and whether this will be helpful.

On Friday, October 21, Barbara reported on the listserv for low income taxpayer clinicians that she had called the IRS and

Before the usual menu options were listed, I was asked to repeat this sentence: “I pay my taxes on time.” I did so (and I do!), chose my menu option, and was immediately put on hold. In any normal universe, this wouldn’t sound so fantastic, but in our world, we all know this is a huge improvement. The hold time wasn’t any better than before, but MAYBE the days of repeat dialing are over. Thanks to the clever folks who figured out how to weed out the robocalls – until, of course, the clever folks at the robocall companies figure out how to trick the new system.

Others on the listserv reported being ask simple math questions.

Kesha Dawson Harris reported on the listserv that the National Association of Enrolled Agents had sent out the following message:

The IRS is preparing a pilot program that will use artificial intelligence to weed out phone line-cutting services. There is a mixed response to this technology as some tax professionals have used services like enQ Inc. to cut the long hold times that they have been struggling with since the COVID-19 pandemic. Others say that enQ is making the problem worse. Despite the mixed response, the IRS is hopeful that this program will help lessen the time spent on hold with the IRS.

Amber Gray reported on Forbes that the IRS discussed the steps it was taking to try to address the robocalls at the most recent ABA Tax Section meeting. She reports that:

The pilot program is going to use artificial intelligence technology to attempt to weed out calls made by these services. The initial roll out will be on lines used by tax practitioners.

She also reported on what appears to be the response of the robocall industry:

In the meantime, EnQ has noted on its home page that it is “temporarily suspending services to: Practitioner Priority Service Business, Correspondence Examination Individual/Business, and Automated Underreporter due to changes on the IRS call center.” It recommends their paid subscribers “direct [their] calls to other departments while we work on a solution.”

The battle has begun. Reports on the LITC listserv did not indicate that a smooth glide into the IRS now exists. Nonetheless, it’s good to know the IRS is now fighting back against robocalls. Individual taxpayers could eventually benefit from this if the IRS succeeds on the practitioner call line and practitioners without enough money to pay for the robocall service should benefit. It will be an interesting battle to watch. Best wishes to the IRS for a victory that opens up the lines even though we know that will not be enough to bring back good phone service.

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