Like mosquitoes and, lately, the cicadas, those pesky scammers seem to be everywhere.

I know, for instance, that the IRS scam call is alive and well. I have written about it several times and could write about it daily and there will still be people who are so scared or spooked by the call thinking its real.

Ive gotten various versions of the call myself both a real person and a computer voice and I know that hearing someone tell you that you owe taxes and the IRS or some other authority is coming after you can be very scary to someone, especially the elderly.

I was getting so many calls a day about the IRS scam that I recently updated my work voice mail to specifically address the scam for those callers I miss. I also updated my Web page to include a column I wrote in the fall listing the Top 10 Scams. You can find Bettys Best Tips at www.ohio.com/betty in the middle column.

The IRS scam even has a new twist. Last week, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWines office warned consumers that IRS scammers are asking for payment via gift cards. Ten Ohioans recently reported losing between $1,000 to $11,500 in the ploy.

In the latest twist, the consumer is told to purchase iTunes gift cards, often worth $500 each, to resolve the supposed tax problem. After buying the cards, the consumer is instructed to read the numbers on the back of the cards over the phone. Using this information, scammers drain the cards funds, making it nearly impossible for the consumer to recover the money. The scammers, in turn, can then sell the codes.

Also as part of the scam, con artists may tell consumers to mail the iTunes cards themselves to an unrelated physical address after theyve gathered the numbers over the phone. This may distract the consumer, give the scammer more time to access the funds, and hinder the consumers ability to report the scam, DeWines office said.

Please continue spreading the word to your family and friends to be careful of these shysters and others. Education and awareness are the way to stop them.

Unfortunately, most of these scammers are using spoofed, fake or hijacked phone numbers that if authorities are able to trace, usually are originating outside of the United States so outside of any jurisdiction.

As a reminder, try to avoid getting entangled with robocalls in any way. Dont interact with the caller, and dont call a number left on your phone or in a message. Responding to a scam call can result in even more calls because it lets con artists know that your phone number belongs to a real person.

I wish there were good ways to stop these outlawed calls, which are frankly becoming an epidemic. One way is to use technology to block robocallers. Ive written about one such free service, Nomorobo, and you can find more information in a column posted with the Bettys Best Tips. The downside is that you must have some type of Internet-based phone service, such as Time Warner Digital phone or AT&Ts U-Verse (its higher-end phone package) to use the service because the traditional landline companies and cell-phone companies have not made the technology available to block the calls. However, Nomorobo founder Aaron Foss, a winner of the Federal Trade Commission contest several years ago seeking programs to fight robocalls, told me on Thursday that hes ready to launch his new service to block robocalls on smartphones on June 14 at www.nomorobo.com. The service will cost $4.99 per month to protect up to four smartphones both iPhones and Androids, but not basic cell phones. It blocks active robocallers on your cell phone. The landline version remains free.

More scams to avoid

More agencies are taking a proactive approach to try to educate consumers about scams. On Friday, DeWines office announced a new website, www.ohioprotects.org, and media campaign to highlight common scams. The FTC also launched a new Web page that has videos and information outlining popular scams: www.ftc.gov/imposters

Con artists often rely on fear and surprise, DeWine said. They try to get you to do something you normally wouldnt do. If someone catches you off guard and asks for money or personal information, take time to think about it. Talk it over with someone. If you suspect a scam, contact the Ohio Attorney Generals Office ( www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or 800-282-0515).

Here are some more scams that DeWines office warns to avoid:

Rental scams: Con artists lift listing information from legitimate real estate websites and repost pictures of houses or apartments as rentals on Craigslist or other websites. When potential renters respond to their ads, scammers tell them to wire a down payment of a few hundred or a few thousand dollars to secure the rental. After sending money, however, the renter finds out that the house or apartment was for sale by someone else, not for rent, and that the online rental ad was bogus.

Travel scams: Consumers receive an offer for a free vacation, but they later find out that they must pay upfront fees or listen to a sales presentation to receive the offer. In Ohio, important exclusions and limitations of an offer must be clearly disclosed in ads, and consumers shouldnt have to pay to receive a free prize.

Door-to-door home repair scams: During summer months, traveling contractors go door-to-door offering roof repairs, tree trimming, and other home improvement services, especially after storms. They take large down payments, often via cash or check, and then leave after doing little or no work. To avoid scams, consumers should be wary of door-to-door sellers who fail to notify them of their three-day right to cancel under Ohios Home Solicitation Sales Act, and those who demand large down payments, such as half or more of the total cost, before any work begins.

Charitable solicitation scams: Scammers may invent phony charities or illegally solicit donations on behalf of legitimate organizations, while keeping the money for themselves. Some set up tables outside of stores or shopping malls, or at fairs, festivals, and other popular events posing as a legitimate operation. Before making a charitable donation, research the organization.

Signs of a potential scam :

?Requests to send money via wire transfer or prepaid card.

?Pressure to act immediately.

?Having to pay a fee to receive a prize.

?Requests for large down payments.

?Refusals to provide written information.

Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter.