By Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt
Next week is the first 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 some of the most common scams reported to our office over the past year. This year’s list, perhaps not surprisingly, is topped by scams linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fraudsters used the health crisis to dust off their old tricks when Kansans were most vulnerable, ranging from offers of sure-fire cures to attempts to steal personal information under the guise of helping people obtain government benefits.
Here are the top five scams for 2020:
COVID-19. During the past year, scammers and fraudsters exploited the public’s fear and vulnerability in an attempt to make a fast buck. The tricks and techniques were not new, but they were cast in a veneer of half-truths designed to rob people of their money and information. The scams ranged from text messages warning of contact with a person who tested positive with COVID (clicking the included link would lead to a website or other means of phishing for personally identifiable information) to promises of obtaining personal protective equipment to guard against the disease’s spread or a sure-fire cure to ward off infections. Often victims of these were all too willing to give their money and information away only to never receive what they ordered, or at best a substandard quality of goods.
Still other scammers promised to put federal stimulus checks in victims’ bank accounts immediately if only given the routing numbers and other sensitive information. We advise Kansans to use common sense when faced with these scams. Don’t respond to texts, emails or phone calls that offer help with getting stimulus checks. Legitimate contact tracers will not ask for money or send website links. Be careful of emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization; these are often more attempts to steal your personal information. And ignore offers for vaccinations and miracle treatments or cures. Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using these calls to pitch a variety of products, including work-from-home schemes. If you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer 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.
Car Warranty. Another robocall, this scammer lets you think they are from your auto manufacturer or dealer letting you know that your car warranty is about to expire. They will then try to sell you an extended warranty from a third-party company. Usually this is a way to gather information about you that can then be sold to other scammers. And again, the best way to deal with these scammers is to just hang up.
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 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.
Health Insurance. 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 Social Security 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.
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.