By Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt
Every year during the first week of March the Federal Trade Commission observes National Consumer Protection Week. The Kansas Attorney General’s office with our In Your Corner Kansas campaign focuses year-round on protecting consumers from scams and rip-offs, but during this 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 some of the most common scams reported to our office over the past year. This year’s list is punctuated by the prominence of two classic scams that unfortunately have appeared on our lists all-too frequently over the past decade. These, of course, are those scams where crooks and fraudsters attempt to steal the finances and or identities of Kansans by offering unsolicited help in securing a government benefit or navigating bureaucratic red tape.
Here are the top five scams ranked in order for 2021 based on the number of complaints filed with our Consumer Protection Division, with the most-frequent listed first:
Medical Health Insurance Scams
Consumers have reported receiving calls from insurance companies and government agencies offering to help them navigate the process to receive health care coverage. The callers say they need certain pieces of personal data, such as bank account information or Social Security numbers, to get you enrolled in a coverage plan. Or they will need the information because the insurance company no longer takes checks and needs to arrange for an automatic bank draft. Remember, never give your bank account information over the phone, because you don’t know who is on the other end of the line.
The scam artist may even “spoof” the caller ID so that it looks like it’s coming from a legitimate insurance company. Even if you think the call might be coming from your insurance company, it’s wise to tell them you’ll call back and hang up the phone. Then go look at your last bill and call the phone number printed on the statement. That way you’ll know you’re talking to your insurance company, not an imposter. Other scammers pretending to be from government health programs focusing on senior citizens are not trying to steal money but rather personal information that can be used to file for other government benefits, such as a false tax return. These government agencies will never ask you for personal information over the phone or by email. If Medicare or Medicaid really needs to get information from you, they will send you a letter requesting information. If you do receive a call, and think it might be from a legitimate agency, ask them to send you a letter detailing what information they need.
Social Security Scams
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 the robocall 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.
Computer Repair Scams
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 it, the scam artist is actually trying to install a virus to give them access to all your files and your personal information saved on the computer. The scammer may also be trying to hack into your machine to use it to send out spam emails from your account, or even to take over the 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.
The scam works like this: An individual makes a connection online through a social media site with their victim. Often the scammers are targeting those individuals who are new singles or individuals who have recently lost a spouse or partner. The scammer cultivates a relationship and then begins making overtures about wanting to come to Kansas to see their new companion. As the scammers develop more trust and deeper connections, they begin asking for items from the victims, such as money for airline tickets to travel to Kansas, funds to pay for customs for items for the victim, or other sums of money related to travel plans. In reality, the gifts do not exist and the scammer has no intention of coming to Kansas, just gaining access to the victim’s money, and perhaps even personal information that could result in identity theft and other serious issues.
Whether it’s a foreign lottery, sweepstakes 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.
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.