It's common these days to answer your phone only to find that a scammer is on the other end of the line. The scammer could claim any number of things—that you owe taxes or that you are delinquent on your student loans—and if you're not careful, you could be swindled into giving him money to resolve the problem.

Such scams are on the rise. In 2015, there were more than 1.2 million fraud-related complaints to the government and such groups as the Better Business Bureau.

According to the Consumer Sentinel Network, an online investigative tool from the Federal Trade Commission, there were nearly 354,000 imposter scams alone in 2015, the latest data available. That’s a 25 percent increase over 2014 and about 80 percent higher than in 2013.

Consumers lost more than $762 million to scammers.

“It’s a huge problem, and we believe it’s getting worse," says Katherine Hutt, a spokesperson at the Better Business Bureau.

It's easy to be confused. Most fraud attempts come in by phone, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Scammers often “spoof” the numbers that appear on the caller-ID display of the people they call so that they appear to be legitimate. Scammers might also attempt to reach you through email, text, U.S. mail, or through a website.

While the government tries to shut them down, as it recently did with the tech support scam, it's difficult to keep up with them all. Often there’s another group using the same swindle. And scams are constantly being revised as crooks try to stay ahead of the warnings from government agencies, the media, and others.

One way to protect yourself is to be knowledgeable about these scams. Create a Google alert for the word “scam,” and you’ll find out about them—hopefully before the scammer contacts you. You'll also be able to see certain scams spreading from one state to another, ripping off people along the way for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Another option is to check the Better Business Bureau's Scam Tracker tool and the federal Consumer Sentinel Network online database.

Scams to Know About

Some of the most prevalent scams these days are listed below, along with the median loss consumers reported to the Better Business Bureau's Scam Tracker.

You’re a Tax Scofflaw: $1,475 Median Loss
In this IRS scam, you get a call or email from someone claiming to be an IRS agent and threatening to arrest you for unpaid taxes unless you pay up immediately.

The caller also might ask you to “verify” your Social Security number and birth date, in hopes of obtaining that information. A new version targets college students who are led to believe that they have failed to pay a phony federal student tax.

If you get such a call, hang up. The IRS says it will never call you and demand payment. If you think you actually may owe taxes, contact the IRS at 800-829-1040. Report the scam to the U.S. Treasury.

Grandma, I Need Help: $2,750 Median Loss
In the grandparents scam, you get a call or email from a con artist who claims to be a grandchild or some other relative in trouble. The “relative” may say that he or she is on a trip and requires money for medical treatment or has been arrested and needs bail. Or, the call may come from someone posing as a doctor or police officer contacting you on the relative’s behalf. 

If you're not sure if the caller is a fraud, the National Consumers League, a consumer advocacy group, says you should try calling the person using a known contact number. Also call the person’s relatives (even if the person asks you not to) to find out whether the caller is someone who truly needs help.

Your Computer Is Infested: $300 Median Loss
In the tech support scam, you get a call from someone claiming to be a tech support specialist from Microsoft or some other well-known company, saying that viruses or malware have been detected on your computer. Or you may see a pop-up alerting you that there is a virus on your computer. The scammers’ mission is to persuade you to purchase expensive antivirus software or to give him remote access to your computer, allowing him to install real malware or steal your personal information. One victim, according to the Better Business Bureau, reported last November that he had lost more than $65,000 in an elaborate tech support con that cleared out his bank account.

If you get such a call, simply hang up. If you see a pop-up on your computer that claims you have a virus, don't respond to it. To avoid such pop-ups from occurring, install a security program, such as AVG Antivirus Free, and keep it updated.

You’re an Electricity Deadbeat: $500 Median Loss
The utility scam involves a phone call from someone posing as a utility worker threatening to cut off your electricity, water, or natural gas unless you immediately pay past-due bills.

If you are in doubt about whether you missed a payment, check with your utility, using a phone number you know is legitimate. With many utilities, you also can check your account online.

We’ve Got a Hot Rental Deal for You: $500 Median Loss
Using advertisements on Craigslist and vacation rental websites and bulletin boards, perpetrators of the rental listing scam offer apartments and vacation rentals at great prices. The scammers may hijack real ads by changing the contact information, or they may describe properties that are not actually available for rent or that don’t exist. Their goal is to persuade you to wire a security deposit and the first month’s rent before you’ve even seen the property or signed a lease.

Never agree to rent a property unless you’ve looked at it and met the owner, advises the Federal Trade Commission. Don’t fall for excuses that the owner is traveling or otherwise unavailable. If you can’t get to the location, try to find someone locally to check it out for you. Finally, search the web with the same listing information and see if it shows up elsewhere under another name, a sign that it may be a scam.

You’ve Won $600,000 and a Range Rover: $400 Median Loss
In prize scams, you receive a call, email, or text from someone saying you’ve won the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes, the lottery, or some other contest. But to get the prize you must first pay taxes, shipping, or some other related cost. The scammer may send you a certified or cashier's check with part of the supposed winnings, instructing you to deposit it and then wire payment for taxes or other incidental charges to the scammer's account. After you do, you’ll discover that the check you received was a fake and that your bank wants you return the money it placed in your account.

If you really think you’ve won something, try a web search with the name of the sweepstakes and such terms as “review,” “complaints,” and “scam.” Also check with your state consumer protection office, advises the FTC. Otherwise, it's best not to respond if contacted. And never send money to claim winnings.

You’re Hired: $780 Median Loss
In job scams, con artists place bogus ads online or in newspapers and wait for would-be victims to contact them. In other cases, they send emails or texts, using information culled from ads placed by job seekers or taken from social media. They typically ask their targets to provide credit card or bank account information and even Social Security numbers or other sensitive information. This is another con in which scammers may send a bogus certified or cashier’s check or money order, instructing victims to buy equipment or supplies. But you’ll unknowingly be sending the money to the scammer and be left having to reimburse your bank.

The FTC says that to avoid falling for this scam, never send a prospective employer money as a condition to apply for a job. Also, be sure to carefully check out the employer before sending personal information. Look at the employer’s website and try a search using the employer’s name.