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Consumer Corner: Telephone imposters look to get into your wallet

When your telephone rings, you expect the person on the other end of the line to tell you who they are and why they are calling you. But scammers are coming up with more elaborate ways of fooling you into thinking they are someone else.

We call this wide range of scams “imposter scams,” because the person on the other end of the phone is pretending to be someone they are not in hopes of getting you to give them money or personal information. Here are just a few examples we are seeing around the state:

  • Grandparent scam. This scam typically involves the scammer pretending to be a grandchild stuck in some situation in need of money. The “grandchild” might say they are stuck in a prison in Mexico in need of bail money, or maybe in Italy with a lost passport or in New York in need of a bus ticket. The scammer might use bits of information he or she has picked up from a real grandchild’s social media accounts to make the call sound real – perhaps mentioning the name of a family pet or a favorite food.
  • Electricity bills. Several major utilities in the state have reported scammers calling customers pretending to be from your electric company trying to collect on a past-due bill. The scammer will threaten the consumer with shutting off their electricity if they do not pay immediately.
  • Jury duty. In this scam, the caller claims to be from a local law enforcement agency telling you he or she has a warrant for your arrest because you missed jury duty. But, if you send them some money right away, they can take care of it.
  • IRS. The scammer in this call claims to be from the IRS calling about a problem with your tax return. Just like in the other calls, the scammer wants you to send him money right away to resolve the situation. The caller may threaten you with an audit or heavy tax penalties if you don’t send the money immediately.

In all of these scams, the caller will almost always want you to wire money immediately, or to purchase a prepaid cash card and call them back with the number. These methods of sending money are very hard to trace and almost impossible to get back once it has been sent.

Don’t give in to threats of arrest or IRS audits. In Kansas, if you miss jury duty, you will get a letter asking you to contact the court to reschedule your service. Court officers will not call you and ask you for money for missing jury duty. And, the IRS advises taxpayers that if there is a problem with your tax return, they will notify you by mail – not through a threatening phone call.

The key to all of these scams is to be skeptical of the person calling. Even if you think the call might be legitimate, hang up and call the person back at a phone number you know is real – whether it is a grandchild, your electric company, court clerk or the IRS. Don't call back the number from your caller ID. Find the legitimate number through the phone book or your billing statement. Ask for help from a trusted friend or relative, or even your local police or sheriff, before sending any money.

You can also call our Consumer Protection Division at (800) 432-2310 or visit us online at www.InYourCornerKansas.org. Our consumer protection specialists are there to help you protect your wallet from these telephone phonies.