Debtor and Creditor

How Will the IRS Contact Me If I Owe Money?

Learn how to spot an IRS collection scam.

It isn’t pleasant to get a call from someone who says that they represent the IRS. It’s downright frightening if that person claims that there’s a warrant out for your arrest, that you must send money for unpaid taxes, and if you don’t, the police will be at your door. The truth is that the IRS doesn’t contact people this way. If you owe the IRS money, your first contact with the agency will not be a threatening phone call.

Most Communications Are By Letter

If you owe money to the IRS, expect to get many letters explaining how much you owe for particular years. The reason is that the primary method the IRS uses to communicate with a taxpayer is the mail (including certified mail).

Likewise, the IRS will always send you a letter before taking collection actions against you, like placing a lien on your property or starting a wage garnishment. These letters contain information on how to contact the IRS and how to ask for a hearing before the collection action begins. If you get such a letter, you should talk to a tax professional or lawyer right away to discuss your options.

When the IRS Might Call

The IRS only calls to set up an appointment with a revenue officer, or if you have called the agency first. The IRS will not call you before sending you letters.

Collections Agencies Call About Old Accounts

In 2017, the IRS started a new collection program that includes sending old tax accounts to selected collection agencies that can call you directly. Consumer watchdogs are concerned about this new program because many people, particularly senior citizens, have been swindled in the past by IRS collection scams. People pretending to work for the IRS call unsuspecting taxpayers and harass them for money, often threatening dire consequences if they don’t pay immediately.

You can discern between a real and fake collection agent by understanding what to expect from an authorized collection agency. Specifically, an IRS collection agency will not:

  • call you before the IRS sends you a letter telling you the account is going to collections
  • threaten to have you arrested or deported
  • ask you to pay them directly, or
  • ask for your credit card number or payment via gift card or prepaid debit card.

The collection agencies the IRS is using are (as of May 2017):

  • CBE Group, 1309 Technology Pkwy., Cedar Falls, IA 50613
  • ConServe, 200 CrossKeys Office Park, Fairport, NY 14450
  • Performant, 333 N. Canyons Pkwy., Livermore, CA 94551
  • Pioneer Credit Recovery, 325 Daniel Zenker Dr., Horseheads, NY 14845

If a collector claims to be working for the IRS but is not from one of these agencies, the collector is probably not legitimate. Also, if the IRS hasn’t communicated with you about this account in the past, it is less likely to be a real call. The IRS has published some guidelines for consumers on how to tell a fake call from a real one.

How to Find Out If You Owe the IRS Money

Because IRS collection scams are such a problem, the IRS itself warns taxpayers not to deal with anyone who doesn't seem legitimate. In other words, you can hang up the phone, and the IRS won’t be offended. Of course, this won’t solve the problem if you owe the IRS money. But it will give you time to verify your status.

You can find out whether you owe the IRS by accessing your online account on IRS’s “View Your Tax Account” page. You’ll find further instructions here, or you can call 1-800-829-1040.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Someone called me and said I owe the IRS money. Was this a legitimate call?
  • Can you handle IRS collection calls on my behalf?
  • Do I need documents to set up my online account with the IRS?
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