The Internal Revenue Service will soon begin using private collection firms for some overdue federal tax debts, the department announced Monday.
The new program, authorized under a federal law enacted by Congress last December, is slated to begin next spring. Four private, debt-collection contractors — CBE Group, Conserve, Performant and Pioneer — have been designated to collect outstanding tax debts, the IRS said in a prepared announcement.
“As a condition of receiving a contract, these agencies must respect taxpayer rights including, among other things, abiding by the consumer protection provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act,” the announcement said.
Several factors contribute to the IRS assigning these accounts to private collection agencies, the announcement said, including older, overdue tax accounts or lack of resources preventing the IRS from working the cases.
Look for written notice from the IRS
It was unclear from the announcement if these companies will be allowed to call taxpayers about their debts, something the IRS has never done and has previously been a surefire way of spotting a scammer. Calls to the IRS Taxpayer Advocate office were not immediately returned, but the announcement did provide some details regarding the private companies’ IRS debt collection practices that could prove helpful in determining whether any correspondence is legitimate. For instance, the IRS will provide affected taxpayers and their representatives with written notice that an account is being transferred to one of the agencies.
“The agency will then send a second, separate letter to the taxpayer and their representative confirming this transfer,” the announcement said. “Private collection agencies will not ask for payment on a prepaid debit card. Taxpayers will be informed about electronic payment options for taxpayers on IRS.gov/Pay Your Tax Bill. Payment by check should be payable to the U.S. Treasury and sent directly to IRS, not the private collection agency.”
The announcement acknowledged potential confusion with phone tax scams, which involve people posing as IRS agents in order to scare someone into turning over their payment or personal information.
“The IRS will do everything it can to help taxpayers avoid confusion and understand their rights and tax responsibilities,” the agency wrote. “The IRS will continue to keep taxpayers informed about scams and provide tips for protecting themselves. The IRS encourages taxpayers to visit IRS.gov for information including the ‘Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts’ page.”
Read more: Beware of this IRS phone scam
How to protect yourself
Remember, if you are ever concerned about the legitimacy of debt collectors, particularly those trying to collect a tax debt, it is best to err on the side of caution. If you receive an email, for example, do not open any links. Rather than answer, forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re worried you may have already compromised your identity by falling for a tax scam, you may want to monitor your credit to make sure your information hasn’t been used to commit new account fraud. You can pull your credit reports (here’s how to get your free annual credit reports) and you can also check your credit snapshot, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com for any unexpected changes, which could be a sign of identity theft.
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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.