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District Attorney

Consumer Scams

Contest/Prize Scams

There are many different versions of the contest and prize giveaway scams, but in every case the consumer is asked to buy a product or simply send money in order to obtain the prize. Such solicitations may be done by a telemarketer, direct mail or via the internet. As great as the "pitch" may sound, the only one who will get rich is the promoter, please remember:

  • Telemarketers can be very aggressive. Don't let them talk you into sending money, giving your checking account number, credit card number or social security number to them in order to secure some "fabulous prize or award". NEVER GIVE SUCH INFORMATION OUT OVER THE PHONE UNLESS YOU PLACED THE CALL AND KNOW EXACTLY WHO YOU ARE DEALING WITH.
  • Keep in mind that regardless of the method of solicitation used, you are in control. You can tell a telemarketer no, ask them to place your name on their "no call" list and hang up the phone. Direct mail can be thrown away and the "delete" button can quickly rid you of unwanted email. If the solicitor comes to your door, you can avoid answering the door or tell them firmly that you are not interested and close the door.

Charitable Solicitations

There are numerous legitimate organizations providing assistance and relief to those in need in our community and beyond. Yet, more and more con artists are using "phony" charities to scam generous consumers out of millions of dollars. If you want to help, contribute only to organizations that you know well and who willingly provide written information about their charitable efforts. If you are thinking about contributing consider several things before you make your pledge:

  • The Kansas Charitable Organization and Solicitations Act, K.S.A. 17-1759 et seq., requires charitable organizations, fundraisers, and solicitors to register with the Secretary of State.  Go to www.kscharitycheck.org to determine whether a charity is properly registered.  
  • Know what percentage of your contribution actually goes for the charitable efforts. Remember that high administrative and other such expenses may be a method to hide the solicitors profits for raising the funds.
  • Beware of direct solicitations that are high pressure or overly emotional and remember that legitimate charities will give you plenty of time to decide whether and how much to donate.
  • Remember that fraudulent solicitors may pose as members of local law enforcement or use a organization name that is very similar, but in no way connected with, a well established and well known charitable organization.

Home Repairs or Remodeling

Homeowners should be especially careful when having work done to their home. If damage is caused by a Kansas storm, homeowners are very anxious to have repairs done as soon as possible. Such storms attract con artists who go door-to-door offering immediate repair services and promising to do the work at a very attractive price. The added demand for repair work may make it difficult for consumers to obtain repairs from established local contractors and this results in homeowners being especially vulnerable to home-repair rip-offs.

Repair or remodeling projects should be carefully planned. Homeowners should talk with contractors about their plans, the costs involved and the expectations for the completed job. This can be a challenging experience as workers invade your home in order to complete the project. Homeowners should remember the following:

  • Only deal with contractors who have an established area business. Out-of-state contractors may not complete the work and any warranties may be worthless if they are no longer in the area when defects are uncovered later by the homeowner;
  • Obtain at least three bids on any major repair or remodeling project and check references to avoid a contractor who does substandard work. Be especially cautious if one of the bids is much lower than the others;
  • Confirm the contractor is licensed by the City of Wichita (268-4413), Sedgwick County (660-1840); and/or your local code enforcement office {if the contractor tells you they do not need to be licensed, confirm that with the code enforcement office};
  • Ask for proof of the contractor's liability and worker's compensation insurance to help protect you as a property owner against any claim in the event someone is injured while the work is being done on your property and confirm that the policies are current by calling the insurance agent;
  • Make certain that all important details concerning the work are written into the bid and contract including: the dates the work will begin and is expected to be completed, the total cost of work, the type and quality of materials to be used, how and when payments will be made, and the provisions of any and all express warranties on the materials and labor.
  • Find out from the appropriate building code enforcement office what permits and inspections are required for the work being done and avoid a contractor who wants you to secure the permit;
  • In addition to the District Attorney's Office and the City and County Code Enforcement offices, consumers can contact The Wichita Area Builders Association (265-4226) for more specific or technical information relating to the selection of a contractor.

Fair Debt Collection

If you use credit cards, owe money on a loan, or are paying off a home mortgage, you are a debtor. Most Americans are. You may never come in contact with a debt collector; but if you do, you should know that there are laws to make sure you are treated fairly, including the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The following are some main points taken from the Act:

  • A debt collector may contact you in person, by mail, telephone or telegram. However, a debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient or unusual times or places, such as before 8:00a.m. or after 9:00p.m., unless you agree. A debt collector may not contact you at work if the collector has reason to know that your employer disapproves.
  • You may stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collection agency telling them to stop. Once the agency receives your letter, they may not contact you again except to say there will be no further contact or to notify you that some specific action will be taken.
  • If you have an attorney, the collector, once they are notified, must contact the attorney instead of contacting you. If you do not have an attorney, a debt collector may contact other people, but only to find out where you live or work and they cannot discuss the debt.

The law specifically states that debt collectors may not harass, oppress or abuse any person. This includes the prohibition of the use of threats or violence, use of obscene or profane language, making telephone calls without identifying the caller or in any way advertising your debt.

The Federal Trade Commission offers online information about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Foreign Financial Scams

For a number of years, this office has received complaints from citizens who have been contacted by mail and by fax in an effort to "entice" them to participate in a overseas financial venture.  This letter has now been "updated" on the Internet, and we find that citizens are receiving these letters of solicitation by email. The number of contacts is dramatically increasing.  The current scheme that we have reviewed in a number of emails offers thousands or millions of dollars if you simply turn over your bank account number to the sender.  This sender typically claims to be a member of the military or government of a foreign country, or another country, who requests your assistance to obtain "hidden" money without the government's knowledge.  No matter how "new and improved", this email solicitation is a scheme, the sole purpose of which is to part you from your money!

What should I do in the event that I receive this type of request?

Email is an efficient and cheap method to perpetrate a hoax.  Be very alert to ANY request for your financial information or promises of "get rich quick" schemes.  They are all an attempt to defraud the recipient.

The District Attorney's Office is  happy to respond to your email inquiries on this topic or other topics regarding criminal justice issues and consumer alerts.  It is by working with the public that we can more readily address those issues of concern to our community.  This office collaborates with other law enforcement agencies, whether municipal, state, or federal, in an effort to properly address issues that impact our citizens.

Other questions that you may have can be answered by our specialists in the Consumer Protection Division of the District Attorney's Office.

Purchasing A New Car

Many new car dealers advertise low interest rates and other special promotions such as high trade-in allowances and free or low cost options. While these advertisements may help you shop, finding the best deal requires careful comparison.

When considering an advertised special, read the ad carefully, paying close attention to all small print. Then call or visit the dealer to find out about all the terms and conditions of the offer.

Here are some questions you should keep in mind when considering an advertised special:

  • Will you be charged a higher price for the car to qualify for the low-rate financing? Would the price be lower if you paid in cash?
  • Does the special financing require a larger than usual down payment or are there shorter limits on the length of the loan?
  • Does the low rate apply to all cars in stock or only on certain models?
  • Does any advertised trade-in allowance apply to all cars regardless of their condition or are there deductions for high mileage, dents or rust?
  • Does the larger trade-in allowance make the cost of the new car higher than it would be without the trade-in? You might be giving back the big trade-in allowance by paying more for your new car.

Kansas does have a Lemon Law statute that protects consumers of new vehicle purchases that are defective or can not be repaired after a reasonable number of attempts.  Lemon laws apply only to new vehicles, not used vehicles. 

The Federal Trade Commission also offers additional advice for your next car purchase.

Telemarketing Fraud

Most Kansans don't realize they are protected by one of the best telemarketing laws in the country. Under Kansas law, with some exceptions, in a telemarketing sale, the sale must be completed by sending the consumer a confirmation. This confirmation should list all the terms and conditions and, unless it is signed by the consumer and returned to the seller, there is no binding agreement. The major exception to this rule is a situation where the consumer may obtain a full refund for the return of the undamaged and unused goods or cancellation of services within seven days after receipt by the consumer.

If the consumer does not want to get ripped off over the phone, they should follow these simple rules:

  • Never give your credit card, debit card or checking account number to anyone unless you initiated the call to the individual or company and you know exactly who you're dealing with.
  • Don't make a purchase until you have had time to shop for the item locally or through another source.
  • Don't be pressured into making a telephone purchase. Tell the salesperson you will call them back after you've had time to think about it or discuss it with someone you trust. If it is really a good deal it will be there tomorrow.
  • Learn how to say NO. Never forget, nothing is really free.

Some telemarketers represent reputable companies and offer a convenient way to purchase products and services without leaving your home. Consumers need to be able to tell the difference between reputable and disreputable companies.

Work at Home Offers

Consumers should avoid sending money in response to offers promising a chance to earn extra money working at home by stuffing envelopes or assembling small products. While there are many different versions of this scam, all of them request money in exchange for the "opportunity" to earn money at home. These schemes are almost never what they appear to be and deceive consumers into wasting their time, energy and money. While they have been "promoted" for many years, especially in classified advertising, on yard signs and in direct mail, these schemes have found a new home "on line" on the Internet.

Unordered Merchandise

You receive a pocket knife that you never ordered. Despite your objections, the company continues to send you bills and/or notices threatening your credit rating.

Thousands of people are placed in similar situations each year. Fortunately, a consumer does not have to pay for merchandise he or she did not order because Kansas law prohibits mailing unordered merchandise to a consumer and then demanding payment.

Under Kansas law, if you are sent books, clothing, magazines, office supplies, or any other merchandise that was not ordered, you generally have a legal right to keep the shipment as a free gift. While you have no legal obligation to do so, sending a letter stating your intention to keep the shipment as a free gift is an advisable precaution. Your letter may discourage the seller from sending you repeated bills or notices or it may help clear up an honest error. You may want to send your letter by certified mail and keep the return receipt and a copy of the letter. This will help you establish later that you did not order the merchandise.

Used Cars

  • Never buy a used car without first having it inspected by a reputable mechanic. Kicking the tires just won't get it done.
  • Have everything put in writing. If a salesman makes a claim and it's not in writing - it just doesn't exist. This is especially true concerning warranties or claims about the car's condition.
  • Read the entire contract carefully. If there is something you don't understand, ask questions before you sign.
  • Obtain a copy of Consumer Reports from the library and check on the repair rating for the vehicle.  It will tell you a lot about the reliability of the car.
  • By law, you should receive an odometer statement telling you whether the mileage on the odometer is correct. If you have any doubts about the mileage, you can obtain a history of the car's ownership by contacting the Kansas Department of Revenue, Titles and Registration Division at 785-296-3601.

Used Cars - Warranty Protection

When shopping for a used car, look for the Buyer's Guide posted on the car's side window. This Buyer's Guide is required by law on all used cars sold by vehicle dealers. It tells you whether a service contract is available. It also indicates the type of warranties that are available. There are two types of warranties: Express and Implied.

An express warranty is a written agreement that states that the dealer or manufacturer intends to repair the car under certain circumstances. Express warranties for used cars are usually limited to certain parts of the car and usually require the purchaser to pick up the tab for a certain percentage of the repair.  Look for an express warranty where the dealer agrees to pay a majority of the costs of parts and labor for a significant period of time.  Remember that the terms of such a warranty, like the price of the vehicle, is generally negotiable between you and the dealer and get it all in writing.

Implied warranties are unspoken and unwritten. Under the implied warranty of merchantability -- the seller promises the product will do what it is supposed to do. For example, a toaster will toast.  It is also important to know that in Kansas, the implied warranty of merchantability cannot be waived; therefore, this warranty can provide the buyer with some remedies in addition to those set forth in an express warranty.

Office of the District Attorney Consumer Protection Division - consumer@sedgwick.gov