Just in time for tax season, the IRS announced on April 4 that it will begin using private debt collectors pursuant to federal law enacted late in 2015.
The IRS said that it will begin this month sending around 100 letters per week to taxpayers who have accumulated years-overdue tax debt. If the process goes smoothly, the number of letters will be increased to 1,000 per week.
Outsourcing debt collection will likely provide scammers with new opportunities, so the IRS has provided some advice for the safety of taxpayers.
The taxpayer will hear from the IRS first by letter. The letter will provide the name and contact information for the debt collection firm. After that initial contact, the debt collection firm will send its first letter confirming that it will handle the case. Neither initial contacts will be by telephone.
At this point, only four firms have been identified: CBE Group of Cedar Falls, Iowa; Conserve of Fairport, New York; Performant of Livermore, California; and Pioneer of Horseheads, New York. Each taxpayer’s account will be assigned to only one of these firms.
None of the firms will ever ask for payments to be made to anyone other than the United States Treasury. If a taxpayer is asked to make payment to anyone else, this is a scam.
In the case of mistreatment under this new program, taxpayers are urged to file complaints with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The IRS and Congress have indicated they will be monitoring this situation carefully.
On a related topic, real estate lawyers should be reminded that the IRS may issue a levy, which is a legal seizure, of a taxpayer’s property to satisfy a tax debt. When a levy is issued, it applies to real property, money, credits and bank deposits. A levy can also reach property held by third parties, such as retirement accounts, dividends, bank accounts, licenses, rental income, accounts receivable, the cash loan value of life insurance policies and commissions.
The IRS issues a levy only after it has exhausted other means to collect a tax debt.
From time to time, a settlement agent will receive a levy for a party involved in a closing. The taxpayer should be sent a notice in writing of the receipt of the levy and should be directed to consult with his or her tax advisor. Remember that a real estate lawyer who is not also competent as a tax lawyer should never offer tax advice. Typically, after the taxpayer has time to seek tax advice, the settlement agent should comply with the levy.
(If I received a levy, however, I would also seek my own tax advice prior to disbursing any funds!)