Democrats Ask FTC to Review IRS Private Debt Collection Scripts

For over 50 years, Bloomberg BNA’s renowned flagship daily news service, Daily Tax Report® has helped leading practitioners and policymakers stay on the cutting edge of taxation and...

By Kaustuv Basu

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and three other Democratic senators are asking the Federal Trade Commission to review call scripts used by four private debt collection companies hired by the IRS.

“In order to ensure that taxpayer rights are duly protected at each stage of interaction with the IRS and its private contractors, I believe the call scripts used by IRS contractors deserve review by the FTC,” the senators said in a July 10 letter. “I am particularly concerned that these call scripts may include implied threats to taxpayers, violations of taxpayer privacy protections due to information shared with third parties, and inadequate responses to taxpayer cease and desist requests,” the senators said. The letter was also signed by Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), and Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.).

The letter follows a June 23 letter that Warren, Brown, Cardin, and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) sent to Pioneer Credit Recovery Inc. complaining about the scripts. The private debt collection program, restarted as part of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (Pub. L. No. 114-94), launched in April to handle long-delinquent tax debts.

The Internal Revenue Service hired four collectors: CBE Group Inc., ConServe Inc., Performant Recovery Inc., and Pioneer Credit Recovery Inc. The senators said in their June 23 letter that Pioneer could be failing to protect taxpayers from fake IRS agents and violating the guidelines and provisions of its contract with the IRS.

“The company stands by the scripts. Lawyers at the IRS are quite capable of reviewing the scripts and whether or not they are compliant with the Internal Revenue Code and the Fair Debt Collection Act,” said Jeff Trinca, an attorney who represents Pioneer.

CBE Group declined to comment and directed questions to the IRS. The other companies didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

IRS ‘Closely Monitoring’

The IRS said in a previous statement that it “will be closely monitoring the private debt collection program and will be working closely with the firms to ensure the fairness and integrity of the initiative.”

The July 10 letter said the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service “reported that more than half of the initial accounts referred to these private debt collectors are for taxpayers below 250% of the federal poverty level.”

The FTC is in charge of enforcing the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The act “prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices,” according to the FTC’s website.

“Given the FTC’s responsibility for enforcing the FDCPA, I ask that you conduct a thorough review of these scripts and provide a briefing to my staff on this matter no later than September 1, 2017,” the senators said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kaustuv Basu in Washington at kbasu@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Meg Shreve at mshreve@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.