Consumer protection – AG warns Rotary about the many cons
by Clarke Davis
Watch out for the crooks who might call you on the telephone or knock on your door. That was the message Attorney General Derek Schmidt brought to the Valley Falls Rotary Club Thursday night.
Since the 1970s the Attorney General has been assigned the duty by state statute of enforcing the Kansas Consumer Protection Act. While the state agency works in conjunction with local prosecutors in most other areas, the state AG is the first stop for most consumer protection problems—except for a couple of the larger counties, Schmidt said.
“We see complaints coming in from all over the state on what different con artists are doing to try to get into people’s pockets,” he said.
Because of this statewide breadth of view the AG’s office has a unique perspective and because of that, the Legislature also gave this office the responsibility of consumer education and outreach, he said.
“We get over 7,000 complaints a year and we know that is only a fraction of what is happening, so there is a need to be on guard and share information,” he said.
If you’re a bad guy trying to make money off of some else’s misery, the old-fashioned way of calling them up on the telephone and trying to snooker them into something really does work, he said.
He told the story of a person from his hometown of Independence who, in his later years, fell for a scam buying a timeshare in Florida. After paying on it for several months and having a change of heart, he got another call from someone who markets timeshares and would help him sell his.
Schmidt noted that the two callers—the seller and the reseller—were in cahoots, probably with telephones in the same room.
This man then started paying one to sell his timeshare while still paying the other.
“Normally these are lost causes,” Schmidt said. “His loss was about $70,000 and we were able to get half of that back.”
Something else that works for crooks is door-to-door sales, he said. He told of several classic examples from meat and alarm system salesmen to asphalt.
“If I want a steak, I will go to the store or the locker or my neighbor and buy one,” Schmidt said.
However, there are con artists who knock on doors who have a pickup truck with a home freezer on the back selling meat.
Schmidt had this happen at his house and he was quick to ask if the person had a three-day cooling off agreement as required by law and a license from the Department of Agriculture, which is required to sell meat.
One complaint that reached the AG’s office about alarm systems came after a couple was told their current contract with a competing company was almost up and this person had a better system at a cheaper price. The homeowner wound up with two systems both under contract and contacted the AG’s office for help.
Schmidt then went on to explain how the asphalt capper works. Usually there’s a knock on the door and someone claiming to have just finished a big job in some city and now they have this leftover asphalt to get rid of.
“We’ll make you a special deal,” is usually how the first homeowner is approached Schmidt said.
The AG said they work small towns where word spreads and surprisingly the first person to bite will get a good deal. The second and third parties get a little less until finally the last person pays and doesn’t get anything.
“It’s just a straight out theft,” Schmidt said.
If the AG gets notified in time, they can put a hold on their assets and sometimes get some of the victims’ money back off the sale of their trucks and other equipment.
His remarks did not omit the storm-chasing roofers and siding companies and again his advice to do business locally with people you trust or who have a track record of good, honest work.
One other area of crime he discussed — and the fastest growing — is the theft of people’s identification. He talked about a “secure transaction” when you hand someone some money for a product and they hand you the product.
But the world has changed and most transactions are now done with credit cards and over the Internet.
“Oddly, while ID theft is a crime in Kansas, it is not part of the consumer protection division,” he said. “We have asked the Legislature to change that this year so we can deal with it more directly.”
Schmidt left the Rotarians repeating the slogan used by Homeland Security: “If you see something, say something.”
He left material titled “Tips for Charitable Giving,” “Protect Yourself from Scams,” and “Protect Yourself from Identity Theft” all available through the AG’s office.
President June Huston reported that the Rotarians will meet at 4 p.m. this Thursday to clean two miles of highway right of way.
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