As scams that target the public go, many of them seem pretty hard to believe. The famous Nigerian prince email scams, for example, have circulated for years and contain absolutely ludicrous stories of desperate need. It might seem hard to believe that anyone would fall for it, and scammers have even spoken out about the reason behind these wild tales: they want only the most gullible victims to respond.

But there are a lot of scams that are hard to ignore, largely because they contain specific information about you. It’s even more alarming when the scammer contacts you by phone, threatening you with severe consequences for not complying.

That’s the case for far too many people who’ve been victimized by IRS scams. In these all too common attacks that have stolen millions of dollars from consumers, criminals posing as IRS agents reach out to potential victims and claim their taxes have not been paid, openly stating that there will be criminal penalties if they don’t pay immediately.

Sadly, for those who do fall for the scam and send in payment, things only get worse. Once the scammers know that you’re a willing mark, they continue to call with new threats and even bigger demands for money. Some victims have sent literally everything they had, only to be told to reach out to their other relatives for more money.

These IRS scams and other similar fraudulent failure-to-pay calls work because the caller seems to know so much about you. He might have your name and address, your family members’ names, and in some cases, even your Social Security number. If he knows so much about you, surely this is genuine, right?

Unfortunately, this is one of the many ways that thieves can benefit from your stolen data. They may have accessed old information from a data breach that was sold online, or hacked your existing accounts to glean information about you. Something as harmless as an obituary for a family member can even tell a scammer a lot about you, including the names and number of children you have, where you live, and the fact that you may have just received a life insurance settlement.

It’s all too easy to appear to be legitimate, and even if they’re wrong and you call them on it, the worst that happens is they hang up and move on to the next potential victim. They have nothing to lose by calling you, and a lot to possibly gain.

It’s crucial that consumers remember they are never required to make an immediate payment for outstanding charges over the phone, via prepaid debit card or wire transfer, or simply based on information they received in a phone call. Any legitimate charges from the IRS, your financial institution, your utility company, or any other entity will be sent to you in writing so you can have a record of the matter, and will contain detailed information so you can speak with someone about your case.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.