Scammers are working overtime trying to get your money by using several common phone scams.

It can be difficult to ignore someone who calls you claiming to be from a legitimate company or government agency -- stating if you don't pay a fine, you could face arrest. So how do you know when it's actually a scammer on the other end of the line just trying to fool you and steal your money?

How to spot a phone scam

Scammers use all different kinds of threats in an attempt to scare you into handing over your personal information. Know this: any legitimate company or government agency will not call you on the phone -- they will send official notices and communications via U.S. mail.

But even for people who do know this, it can still be difficult to ignore the threat of being arrested. And because scammers can be so convincing, Consumer Reports has identified four common phone scams that continue to cause financial problems for Americans.


4 common phone scams to watch out for

1. IRS scam

As tax season approaches, the IRS phone scam is making the rounds again. According to Consumer Reports this scam "tops the list of the IRS’s official 'Dirty Dozen' tax scam warnings for 2015 and was recently ranked #3 on the FTC’s list of the top 10 consumer complaints."

The scammers use phone spoofing to make their number come up as "IRS," and they already have the last 4 digits of your Social Security number -- both of which lends them an air of legitimacy.

Here are some of their other tactics to watch out for:

  • They use common names and fake IRS badge numbers.
  • They send bogus IRS e-mails to support their scam.
  • They call a second time claiming to be the police or department of motor vehicles, and the caller ID again supports their claim.

You're told to submit payment either by wire or by prepaid debit card. 

Know this: The IRS will *not* contact you by phone asking for money. They only contact you by snail mail if they want to get in touch with you. So if you get one of these calls, hang up the phone!

Read more: Top 15 scams to watch out for!

2. Jury duty scam

According to CR, this scam involves someone calling you claiming to be from the U.S. Marshals Service or a “deputy marshal” with the sheriff’s office -- warning that you may be arrested because you didn’t report for jury duty.

The scammer then gives you a way out by saying all you have to do is prove you aren't guilty of this by providing your Social Security number, a credit card number or by buying a prepaid card and giving the caller the account number.

3. Microsoft scam

This phone scam is also referred to as the “tech support scam." The scammer calls claiming to be from Microsoft, Windows or "computer tech support" -- warning you that your computer is experiencing errors or has a virus. The caller might tell you to check your Windows event log viewer, which will likely contain records about errors, but Consumer Reports says most of those errors are actually nothing to worry about and it's just a way for the scammer to lure you in.

The scammer will then ask you to log on to a service that allows him or her to take control of your computer -- which is just a ploy for the thief to install malware on your device and steal any personal information store inside.

Read more: 13 ways you may be exposing yourself to fraud

4. Government grants scam

According to Consumer Reports, a scammer will call you and claim you're being offered free money by the government or that you've qualified to receive a "free grant" to pay for education, home repairs, home business expenses, or even unpaid bills.

Free money sounds great, right? Well, up until the caller tells you that in order to get it, all you have to do is just pay a "processing fee" of between $150 and $750. The scammer might also ask for your checking account information so he or she can deposit the money directly into your account.

That "processing fee" is really just a gift to the scammer, and handing over your account number will result in the scammer stealing every last penny you have.

Consumer Reports says the scammer might also claim to be from the “Federal Grants Administration" -- which does not exist!

What to do if you receive a call from a scammer

  • Hang up the phone immediately! If you aren't sure whether the claim is legitimate, hang up and call the company or agency directly. 
  • If you receive a phone call from an unknown number, don't call it back without researching the number. It could be a scam!
  • File a complaint with the FTC. If you think you might have been a victim of a phone scam, file a complaint with the FTC online or call 877-382-4357.