The trainer asks us to write a secret on a sheet of paper, "something no one knows about you."
One of the debt collectors laughs nervously as we fold up our secrets and slip them into a paper bag.
The seven trainees are training for a new job at Pioneer Credit Recovery: calling delinquent taxpayers on behalf of the IRS. The task puts them in the front lines of a national controversy over how to collect billions of dollars in overdue taxes.
Pioneer is one of three collection agencies – in New York, Texas and Iowa – the IRS selected last year to collect amounts it lacks the manpower to collect itself. The private-sector agencies work on accounts under $25,000 that are deemed low-priority by the IRS.