You probably realize that collection agents will explore all available resources when attempting to track down delinquent individuals. Hopefully, this is not a process that you frequently have to endure, as it can be stressful and relentless. This is particularly true if, well-meaning though you may be, you simply lack the ability to satisfy your balance.
Given the tenacity of the average collection agency, you may assume that the IRS would be even more aggressive when a debt goes unpaid. And while this isn't an unfair assumption, it's important to understand just how the IRS will contact you to report a problem. There are a number of responses you could expect following non-payment of a tax debt, along with a few that are merely attempts to defraud you.
When you have a tax debt, the IRS will notify you by mail. Your notice will include the total due, interest and penalty charges, the reason for the balance, and what year the liability is for. Your letter of assessment may arrive a few months or even more than a year after the balance was originally due. No matter what, you should confirm that what the IRS' assessment is correct; just don't be surprised if you have to perform this task long after you've filed your return.
In the event that you don't respond to your IRS notice, there are a couple of things that could happen. First, every month that passes without you paying your tax debt in full will result in added penalties and interest. When you make no attempt to even partially resolve your balance, though, the consequences are less passive. Depending on how much you owe, the IRS can place a tax lien against you, garnish your wages or place a levy on your bank account. All the while, you will continue to receive notices in the mail.
Since notification of a tax debt may come as a surprise, you may not exercise the best judgment when responding. Unfortunately, scammers are aware of the knee-jerk reaction that taxpayers frequently have when hearing from the IRS; many times, honest individuals simply want to pay what they owe immediately. As a result, you may get a phone call informing you that you have a tax debt - only, it won't be from the IRS.
Scammers have become increasingly proficient in crafting their schemes, relying on the inherent fear and prejudice that the IRS often inspires. You may get a call advising that you have an unpaid balance that has to be paid immediately in order to prevent harsh action. Fraudsters may use threats of arrest or even deportation for failing to comply.
If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS - particularly if you haven't received any notices in the mail - exercise extreme caution. Remember, a legitimate contact from the IRS will not demand payment over the phone, or provide threats of any kind. If you suspect that you legitimately have a tax debt, you may contact the IRS directly or consult with a licensed tax professional regarding your best recourse.