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Protecting Yourself From Tax Relief Scams

There are few things in life scarier than owing money to the Internal Revenue Service.

Taxpayers who are faced with a lien being placed against their property - or wage garnishment - can panic and find themselves being lured into scams designed to take their money without providing any tax relief.

Tax-relief scams run amok on the internet, where anyone with a smooth pitch and a fancy website can attract unsuspecting victims who are just looking for some help with back taxes. The only thing worse than owing a large sum of money to the IRS, is losing even more money to crooks that have no intention of actually helping you.

But for every tax-relief scam out there, a legitimate tax-relief service exists. The hard part is determining which is which. Let's discuss a few ways to determine whether a company can really help you, or if they just want to help themselves to your money.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Consumer Protection, the biggest warning sign of a tax-relief scam is an agency which overstates its success rate. This can include a misrepresentation of the expertise and skills of staff members at the agency. Consumers should be wary of this type of approach, especially if an agency claims it can successfully help you before it has even seen the details of your case.

Another huge red flag is if the agency asks for money up front. These fees can amount to thousands of dollars. Agencies often claim these fees will be used to help secure a deal with the IRS, with a small portion going to cover their administrative costs. The IRS does not charge fees to work out a repayment deal, so anything paid to a firm like this likely will go directly into the agency's pocket.

So what can consumers do to protect themselves from tax relief scams?

First and foremost, it is important to know the difference between a Certified Resolution Specialist and some guy sitting behind a desk, claiming to know what he's doing.

The American Society of Tax Problem Solvers issues certifications for resolution specialists. It is a non-profit agency consisting 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.

One option that can be used to provide tax relief is through an installment agreement. This allows the taxpayer to repay back taxes in pre-determined payments.

Another option that can be utilized is what's known as an "Offer in Compromise" (OIC). An OIC allows taxpayers to settle their debt for less than the full amount that is owed if they can prove that paying in full would cause a financial hardship for them. Qualified candidates for this option must meet specific criteria as determined by the IRS, and must provide documentation supporting their ability to pay, income level, current expenses and asset equity. Anyone who currently is in the process of bankruptcy does not qualify for this option.

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