Summer scam alert -- Beware these 3 new schemes to steal your money

Criminals don't take vacations. They're always scheming to steal your money. Here's what you need to know this season.

I'm known for saying there are 3 certainties in life: death, taxes and change. Perhaps I should add a 4th-- scams. Whenever there is money, there are unscrupulous people who try to steal it from you. Even though the tax season is over for most Americans, scammers aren't taking a vacation. In fact, these fraudsters seem to be upping their game while many of us are trying to relax. Don't let your guard down.

The common denominator is fear and intimidation.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen says, "Many of these are variations of a theme, involving fictitious tax bills and demands to pay by purchasing and transferring information involving a gift card or iTunes card." In this column, I previously warned about a scam linked to these type of cards but apparently this year, criminals have added a new twist.

RELATED: Check out 5 things you should know about identity theft:

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5 things renters need to know about identity theft right now
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5 things renters need to know about identity theft right now

1. Beware of online rental scams

First things first: Make sure the rental listing is real. Here are a few red flags to watch for.

  • The rental price is extremely low for the neighborhood or the type of property.
  • You must hand over your private financial information and/or put down a deposit before being allowed to see the property.
  • The person listing the rental is out of the country or unable to meet you in person.

When in doubt, don’t hand over any sensitive information and report the listing to the listing site. If you’ve already been the victim of an online rental scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

(Borut Trdina via Getty Images)

2. Ask if you can obtain your own reports

To protect yourself from credit card identity theft, you can request to pull your own credit report and give it to your landlord personally. You are entitled to one free credit report annually from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. You can request your report at AnnualCreditReport.com. A free account with Credit Karma will allow you to see both your TransUnion and Equifax credit scores, and Discover Credit Scorecard will give you access to your FICO score based on Experian data for free (no Discover account required).

Heads up: If you’re in a rental market with stiff competition or if you’re renting from a larger company with strict rules, asking to use a credit score and report you obtain yourself could be a long shot. But it doesn’t hurt to ask.

(i_frontier via Getty Images)

3. Request to use a third-party service

If a landlord wants to base your rental worthiness on more than credit reports and scores, there are third-party services that offer additional information for landlords with better tenant protection. SmartMove, a service created by TransUnion, allows landlords to request that applicants create their own account and provide relevant information. A report is then created and made available to view without requiring the exchange of personal information (like Social Security numbers or bank account numbers) from applicant to landlord.

4. Know the policies

While one landlord might be diligent about destroying applications after use, another might leave them lying around without a second thought (even though there are often local laws governing what landlords are required to do with this information). Ask your landlord these questions before handing in your application:

  • How will my private information be used?
  • Who will have access to my information?
  • What is your privacy policy?
  • How will my information be stored or destroyed after use?

If you’re not comfortable with any of the answers supplied, ask if they can make an exception. For instance, request your application be shredded after use or digitally destroyed instead of being kept on file. Still not satisfied? Consider walking away.

(fatesun via Getty Images)

5. Wait for the right rental

Ask anyone who has been on the roller coaster of identity theft, and they would offer the same advice: Offer your financial information only when it’s absolutely necessary. If you’re on the fence about a rental, don’t complete a full application until you’re sure it’s what you want. If you’re aware of a few credit blemishes or criminal problems that could cause you to be turned down, have a conversation with the landlord before starting the application process. This can give you the option of walking away before handing over your information — saving you the cost of an application fee too.

(Big Cheese Photo via Getty Images)

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1. EFTPS Scam -- The new scam is linked to the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), which is a real thing. The fraudulent caller claims to be from the IRS and demands immediate tax payment, saying that two certified letters mailed to the taxpayer were returned as undeliverable.

The scammer then threatens arrest if a payment isn't made immediately to a specific prepaid debit card. You've probably guessed that the card isn't linked to the legitimate federal tax payment system. The biggest red flag is that victims are warned not to talk to their tax preparer, attorney or the local IRS office until after the payment is made.

2. Charitable Giving Scam-- The Federal Trade Commission let us know about imposters claiming to be with the FTC, or another agency like the fictitious "Consumer Protection Agency." In this one, you get a call saying you've won a huge sweepstakes from the Make-a-Wish Foundation, a well-known charity for very ill children.

To get the money, the caller says the "winner" must first pay thousands of dollars to cover taxes or insurance on the prize. The call may even come from a 202 (Washington, D.C.) area code to appear credible--since the headquarters for the FTC and most federal agencies are in D.C. Big red flag-- you should never have to pay to win any prize.

3. Private Debt Collection Scam - This summer, we're also seeing scammers posing as private collection firms. This is another tricky one because the criminals prey on taxpayers who really do owe back taxes. The IRS legitimately began a new private collection program of certain overdue federal tax debts, assigned to four contractors.

As you can imagine, fraudulent debt collectors are jumping on this one. Here's how the real program works:

The IRS will give taxpayers written notice that the accounts are being transferred to the private collection agencies.

The agencies will send a second letter confirming this transfer.

Private collection agencies will be able to identify themselves as contractors of the IRS collecting taxes. You can access the real list here.

These authorized firms will only be calling about a tax debt the person has had-- and has been aware of-- for years. The IRS would have previously contacted you about this debt. Remember, these agencies won't ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone. They won't threaten to bring in the cops or other law-enforcement groups or demand that taxes be paid without giving you the chance to question or appeal the amount owed.

For anyone who doesn't owe taxes and has no reason to think they do:

Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately!

Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the call. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page or call 800-366-4484.

Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the FTC Complaint Assistant on FTC.gov and add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.

For anyone who owes tax, or thinks they do: View tax account information online at IRS.gov to see the actual amount you owe. Then review payment options.

Call the number on the billing notice, or the IRS at 800-829-1040.

A competent tax advisor can also help you determine what's real and what's not. Fear and intimidation should always be a red flag and it doesn't hurt to have a pro in your corner.

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