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"We can guarantee the IRS will not place a lien on your property or garnish your wages. Come see us, and see how easy it is to obtain tax relief!"
"Tired of being hounded by the federal government over money you just can't pay? We've helped over a thousand people just like you to settle their tax debts at a fraction of the amount owed!"
Do those pitches sound familiar? If so, then chances are you've seen one of the many advertisements for tax debt relief agencies.
There is a plethora of companies on the market today that claim to be the best at reducing the amount of debt taxpayers owe the federal government. Some of those companies are reputable, while others are no more than clever fronts to convince taxpayers to hand over money for services they will never receive.
The Federal Trade Commission reported last year that it had received numerous complaints from taxpayers who signed up for services with tax relief agencies, only to find they had become the victims of financial fraud. Some companies were accused of requiring upfront fees of several thousand dollars, while others were accused of making unauthorized charges on consumers' credit cards or bank account withdrawals.
The Federal Trade Commission closely monitors agencies of this nature, and takes all complaints about them seriously. In fact, in 2010, the commission was behind a federal judge's decision to shut down a company called American Tax Relief after it had received numerous complaints about the company. The company operated on a nationwide level and is accused of bilking consumers out of thousands of dollars. The company had its license to operate suspended and was ordered to pay restitution to its clients.
So how does one ensure they are not being taken advantage of if they seek out the help of a tax debt relief agency?
There are a few simple rules to consider when choosing a tax relief agency.
The internet can be your friend when it comes to checking the legitimacy and reputation of any agency you are considering using. Websites such as the Better Business Bureau and TopConsumerReviews.com can be used to identify which tax relief companies provide the best service to their customers. If you have a specific agency in mind, research them to make sure they are legitimate before ever contacting them.
If you find no poor reviews or complaints about an agency on the internet, the next step is to find out more information about the people who work for the agency. Are they qualified to represent you? Do they have any prior experience in settling tax claims? Is anyone in the agency certified through the American Society of Tax Problem Solvers, or ASTPS? A non-profit agency, ASTPS consists of professionals who represent taxpayers before the IRS. It only gives certification to agents who are able to pass a written exam, provide evidence they have experience in the tax industry and be a licensed certified public accountant or tax attorney.
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