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 is also one of our customs this week to report to you some of the most common scams our office received complaints about over the past year. These scams have been around for years and yet we hear complaints about each of these nearly every day. So, stay on the lookout for these ways the crooks are trying to get a hold of your money:
IRS/Government Imposter. In these scams, the fraudster calls impersonating a government employee. The most common one is a scammer impersonating the IRS saying you owe back taxes and needing you to pay immediately via your credit card or by purchasing a pre-paid card and calling them back with the card number. Other variations 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. Even the IRS does not use such threatening tactics to try to get you to pay up. Most often, 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 their official website and call to make sure it’s a legitimate letter.
You’re a Winner. This age-old scam still hasn’t gone away. Whether it’s a foreign lottery 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.
Card Services. One of our most common complaints is about these robo-calls claiming to be from “Card Services” wanting to help you lower your rates. This is a scam looking to collect your personal information, including your credit card numbers. The callers ignore the Do-Not-Call registry and even the requests from consumers to be removed from their lists. Often, the recorded message says to press 1 to speak to a representative or press 2 to be removed. We recommend you press no buttons and just hang up. Pressing a button will confirm to the robo-dialer that they’ve found a working number and someone who will answer their phone. They then sell this information to other scammers, meaning you’ll get even more calls.
IT Support. 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. The irony here is that the scam artist is actually trying to install a virus on your computer 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. If your computer really does have a problem, take it to a reputable, local computer repair shop. Never give a stranger access to your computer over the phone.
Utility Bill Collectors. Similar to the government imposter scam described above, in this one, the scammer is impersonating a utility company. Almost all of the major utilities in the state have been impersonated. The caller will threaten to shut off your electricity, water or other utilities unless you pay them immediately. Usually they want you to wire money or give them a prepaid card number. This makes it very difficult or nearly impossible to get the money back once it is sent. The scammers often target small businesses, where they know a business owner would rather pay than risk having their utilities turned off and have to close the business. Again, your best solution is to hang up. If you have questions about the status of your utility bill payments, call the utility directly at the phone number printed on your bill.
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.