As we recognize National Consumer Protection Week, the first week of March, our office is reminding Kansans that we’re here year-round to protect you from scams. Looking back on the past year, here are a few of the scams that were reported to our office most often during 2014. These scams are all still around – so be on alert for scammers using these tricks to get into your wallet.
IRS Threats. The scam artist poses as an IRS agent, informing you that you owe taxes or did not file a return last year. The scammer threatens to arrest you unless you make a partial payment or pay a late fee right away. The IRS has warned consumers that it never sends unsolicited emails asking for personal information. If there is a problem with your tax return or you owe money, they will first attempt to contact you by letter through the U.S. mail. If you do receive a letter claiming to be from the IRS, call the agency at (800) 829-1040 to verify its legitimacy.
Tax Return Identity Theft. Identity theft is on the rise, and this scam is just one example of how someone who accesses your personal information can use it to make money. In this case, the identity thief uses your name and social security number to file a false tax return, but has the money sent to their bank account or address. You might not be aware that this happens until you try to file your tax return, and have it rejected because the IRS thinks you have already filed it. If this happens to you, contact our office for assistance.
False Invoices. This scam, which often targets small businesses, involves the scammer sending you an invoice for a product or service that you didn’t order. The most recent ones our office has been hearing about include yellow page listings and social media promotions. We also get a lot of complaints about products with a “free trial” period, but once that free trial is up, you get charged for the service. These companies often make it difficult to cancel. To avoid these scams, pay close attention to the things you buy and the bills you pay. Don’t pay a bill for something you didn’t order, and don’t give your credit card number out for something that is supposed to be free.
Grandparent Scam. We continue to receive a lot of reports of this classic scam, where the person on the other end of the line claims to be a friend or relative – most often a grandchild – in some emergency situation in a faraway place – often a foreign country – in need of money. While the stories vary, the scammer almost always wants you to wire the money. If you think your friend or relative might actually be in trouble, do some verifying. Call someone else who would know that person’s whereabouts, but never ever wire money to the person supposedly in trouble. Once that money is wired, there is almost no chance of getting it back.
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.
More information on how to protect yourself from scams is available on our consumer protection website at www.InYourCornerKansas.org or by calling our consumer protection hotline at (800) 432-2310.