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Consumer Corner: Top scams of 2013

By Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt

The first week of March marks National Consumer Protection Week. While our office makes educating and protecting Kansas consumers a priority year-round, we take this week as an opportunity to draw Kansans’ attention to ways they can protect themselves from scams and how our office can help if they’ve become a victim.

During 2013, our office handled more than 4,000 complaints from Kansas consumers on a wide variety of topics – and this is only counting those who file a formal, written complaint. In addition, our staff handles many inquiries from constituents who just have questions about a fishy email or phone call they received.

We also made more than 90 in-person presentations to groups and organizations throughout our state, sharing information and tips to help Kansans avoid falling victim to scams and rip-offs. There is no way of knowing how much money Kansans have saved simply by being alert and asking questions if something just doesn’t seem right.

Many of the same scams continue to linger on, because they work. To help you watch out for some of these scams, we’re sharing our top five most-common complaints from 2013:

  1. No-Call: Kansans who have registered their numbers on the Do-Not-Call list have an expectation that they will be left alone. In 2013, our office filed 17 enforcement actions against companies caught violating the No-Call Act. We’re working with the Legislature this year to improve the Act by prohibiting calls to cell phones.
  2. Collection Agencies: Consumers have rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act as to when and how debt collectors can call. In addition, scam artists often pose as debt collectors, offering you a “one-time” deal to pay off your debt for a low rate. Before giving out any personal information to a debt collector, make sure you know who is on the other end of the phone and ask them to send you information in writing.
  3. Internet Sales: Good deals can be found when shopping online, but sometimes those deals are too good to be true. Make sure you’re buying from a trusted seller, especially if you’re making purchases on online auction or classified sites. Use a credit card to make purchases so that payment can be disputed if you are not satisfied with your purchase. Never wire money to an online seller.
  4. Cell Phones: Make sure you thoroughly read and understand the terms of your cell phone contract before you sign. Try testing out coverage in your area with a prepaid service for a month before signing a long-term contract. Closely review your monthly cell phone bill, just like you would your bank or credit card statements. Unscrupulous third parties may attempt to add charges onto your bill after obtaining your information online or through a text-message. If you spot a suspicious charge or you’re receiving unwanted text messages, contact your service provider right away.
  5. Used Car Sales: Buying a vehicle can be among the most expensive purchases we make as consumers. Doing your research before you buy is important to making sure you get a good deal and a reliable form of transportation. Get a detailed vehicle history report, have it inspected and test drive it in varying conditions. Make sure the seller gives you all promises and discounts in writing to avoid later disagreement about the terms of the sale.

More information on all of these topics – and much more – is available on our consumer protection website, www.InYourCornerKansas.org, or by calling us at (800) 432-2310.