This week – the first full week of March – we observe National Consumer Protection Week. While our office focuses year-round on protecting consumers from scams and rip-offs, this week in particular we remind Kansans to be diligent in keeping themselves safe.
It has become one of our traditions this week to report to you some of the most common scams our office received complaints about over the past year. This year’s report includes some old favorites of the scammers, which have reclaimed the top spots.
Card Services. Back after several years away from our list, “Rachael” and her friends from “card services” took the top spot in 2017. In this scam, a robocaller placing thousands of calls at a time will ask you to “press 1” to speak to an account representative about lowering your credit card interest rate. These scammers are after information. If you press anything on your phone, that lets the scammer know they have reached a working number and you’ll get more calls. If you do speak to a representative, he or she will try to trick you into giving them more personal information, including your real credit card number. We’re continuing to work with the Federal Communications Commission and telecom companies to implement technological solutions to reduce the number of robocalls. Until better solutions are available, our best advice on this or any other robocall scam is to not answer calls from numbers you do not know. If you do answer, once you know it’s not someone you know, just hang up.
Computer Repairs. In this scam, the caller claims to be from a well-known computer company telling you they’ve detected a virus on your computer and offers to help you remove it by connecting remotely to your computer. But instead of trying to fix your computer, the scam artist is actually trying to install a virus to give them access to all your files and your personal information that is in them. The scammer may also be trying to hack into your machine to send out spam emails from your account. We’ve also seen an increase in hackers trying to take over your computer’s camera and microphone to spy on you and try to obtain additional personal information. If your computer really does have a problem, take it to a reputable, local computer repair shop or call your computer manufacturer’s customer service number directly. Never give a stranger access to your computer over the phone.
Car Warranty. This is another scam making a return to our list after a few years away. Another robocall, this one claims to be from your auto manufacturer or dealer letting you know that your car warranty is about to expire. They will then try to sell you an extended warranty. Usually, like the card services scam, this is a way to gather information about you that can then be sold to other scammers. And just like the card services scam, the best way to deal with these scammers is to just hang up.
IRS/Government Imposter. After two years as the number-one scam in Kansas, the IRS scam has slipped back to fourth place. While several high-profile offshore scammers operating the IRS scam have been shut down in recent years, the IRS reports that more than 10,000 victims have lost more than $54 million to this scam in the past five years. The scam usually involves a scammer impersonating the IRS saying you owe taxes and asking you to pay immediately via your credit card or by purchasing a pre-paid debit card and calling them back with the card number. Other variations we’ve seen in Kansas include scammers calling saying you’ve missed jury duty and need to pay a fine. We’ve even had scammers call impersonating the attorney general’s office saying they were going to come arrest you if you don’t pay a fine immediately. Remember, when you owe money to a government agency, they are going to send you notices by mail. If you do get something in the mail, it’s a good idea to look up that agency’s number in the blue pages of a phone book or on the agency’s official website and call to make sure it’s a legitimate letter.
Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams. Whether it’s a foreign lottery, sweepstakes or a government grant, scammers are still luring people to send money with the promise of a future “prize,” if only they will send in the money to pay for the taxes or processing fees now. We always remind consumers that the Kansas Lottery is the only legitimate, legally operating lottery in Kansas, and you should never have to pay money upfront to claim a prize.
More information on how to protect yourself from these and other scams is available on our consumer protection website at www.InYourCornerKansas.org or by calling our consumer protection hotline at 800-432-2310.