By Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt
Next week is the first full week of March, which the Federal Trade Commission marks as National Consumer Protection Week. The Kansas Attorney General’s office and our In Your Corner Kansas campaign focuses year-round on protecting consumers from scams and rip-offs, but next week in particular we remind Kansans to be diligent and to keep yourself and your personal information safe. One of the ways we do that is to share with you some of the most commonly-reported scams to our office over the past year. This year’s report looks familiar, as three of the five scams return from last year’s list. However, we have two new scams joining the top five in 2019 – imposters pretending to be from the Social Security Administration or Publishers Clearing House.
Here are the top five scams for 2019:
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, or even 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.
Government Imposter. This scam involves an imposter claiming to be from different federal, state, or local government agencies. In Kansas, we’ve seen them call and say you’ve missed jury duty and need to pay a fine. We’ve actually 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. I assure you, we won’t do that. Government agencies will always contact you by a notice in the mail, not by phone. Even if you do get something in the mail, it’s always a good idea to look up the 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. Don’t call the number listed on the letter. Always take steps to verify anything you receive from someone purporting to be from a government agency is telling the truth and never feel pressured to give your personal information away over the phone.
Social Security Administration. This one is a twist on the government imposter scam involving a robocall claiming to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA) informing you that your benefits are about to end if you don’t take action. Rest assured, the real SSA will never call you to cut off your benefits and will never ask you to wire money, make payments via gift card, or send cash payments in order to continue your benefits. If you receive one of these calls, hang up. Do not “press 1,” or any other number it asks you to press. Like with all robocall scams, 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. 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.
Card Services. The folks from “card services” have been knocked off the top spot on our list after holding it for two years in a row. In this scam, a robocaller will ask you to “press 1” to speak to an account representative about lowering your credit card interest rate. 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. Never give your credit card information to someone over the phone.
Publishers Clearing House. Rounding out the top five is a new addition to our list, the scam involving imposters pretending to be from Publishers Clearing House. It involves scam phone calls to consumers claiming they’ve won a Publishers Clearing House prize of $2.5 million or greater. The scammer will claim that you’ve won the prize, and you just have to pay some amount of money as the “tax” on the winnings to obtain it. In these scams, we’ve seen that they will ask you to send them the cash by sticking it inside a magazine and sending it through the mail. If you get one of these calls, hang up immediately. Never send money.
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.