A headline for an article is the tip of the spear; it sets the tone for everything that follows in the rest of an article.
“The IRS hired private debt collectors who are squeezing poor people and hurricane victims,” blares an article on Quartz.com that was published yesterday.
It takes someone reading 17 paragraphs into the article before it’s made known that the four private collection agencies that are working on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service have no idea about the financial status of anyone when an account is placed, nor do they have any idea whether the individual has been a victim of a natural disaster.
It takes nine paragraphs before the reader is informed that it is the IRS that decides which accounts are placed for collection, and that the agencies have no control over what accounts are sent to them. To defend themselves, the article includes one comment from a spokeswoman.
For their part, the four companies say they have no idea whether the people they’re chasing are vulnerable. “[Contractors] do not receive any information about a taxpayer’s level of income and rely solely on voluntary participation by the taxpayer,” Kristin Walter, spokeswoman for the Partnership for Tax Compliance (a coalition representing the four companies), said in an email to Quartz. “If someone says they can’t pay, even with an extended payment plan, they are removed from the PDC program and their account is referred back to the IRS.” She added that the companies “abide by a stringent set of rules to ensure taxpayer privacy and protection.”
Most of the article puts the blame on the IRS and Congress for requiring the tax collection agency to once again try placing unpaid accounts with private collection agencies. But the article does make sure to point out that debt collection receives the most complaints filed by consumers with the Federal Trade Commission, as proof that all collection agencies are bad.