TOPEKA — Gullible Kansas consumers and the state’s elderly population repeatedly victimized by phone scammers end up on so-called sucker lists sold to unscrupulous vendors, charities and organizations willing to pay for leads on potential victims.
“We have some consumers who continue to be scammed,” said Fran Oleen, the state’s deputy attorney general for consumer affairs. “Those who are really problematic and worrying for us are… mainly elderly consumers. Many of them are lonely and lonely, and we see romance scams frequently.
Attorney General Consumer Division Chief Kris Kobach, who was sworn into office in mid-January, said during a Senate hearing on Monday that one of the many challenges for investigators was the reality of faster-evolving robocall technology the laws governing these activities.
“It’s like hitting the mole. As soon as you stop it, they will invent a new one,” she said.
Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican who chairs the Senate Utilities Committee, said a personal legislative goal over the next two years was to make Kansas among the best states in terms of deterring roaming calls. He said state lawmakers could work collaboratively with Kobach and perhaps incentivize telecom companies to engage more aggressively in the fight against robocalling firms.
“We want to be your partner and get to the bottom of this,” Olson told Oleen. “A lot of lost time and a lot of fraud going on. We can’t eliminate everything, but we do what we can. Maybe they’ll stay away from Kansas if they know we mean business.”
Oleen said the attorney general was eager to change state law to fend off the scourge of robocalls. He said the Kansas Attorney General’s office received 231 rogue complaints from January 2022 to January 2023. Of that total, the office opened 68 investigations into potentially illegal rogues. The attorney general did not file any lawsuits related to those complaints last year, he said.
“To explain this, most investigative requests have ended with ‘no jurisdiction’ or a finding of ‘no violation,'” he said.
However, he said the Federal Trade Commission received about 29,000 robocall complaints from Kansans in 2022. He said the attorney general’s office will seek additional legal avenues through the legislature to initiate investigations into some of these FTC complaints.
Kansas joined an anti-robocall task force in July with 49 states and territories. Most, but not all, robocalls should be seen as scams, and most robocalls originate overseas, he said she.
Senator Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, suggested that the Attorney General’s office “stop the only guy in India named ‘Brad'” who appeared to be responsible for the incoming robocalls in Kansas.
“We have evidence that many of them are from India,” Oleen said. “We suspect some of them are from a couple of other countries. We would eventually propose that we work with the Kansas Fusion Center to work through some intelligence to try to figure out if there’s anything we could do at the federal or state level.”
The Kansas Intelligence Fusion Center was established in 2009 as a joint effort between the Attorney General’s Office and the Adjutant General’s Department. The center’s mission is to generate intelligence analysis useful for national security policy and relevant threat alerts.
In response to questions from senators, Oleen said Kansas had a difficult time verifying the senders of surges of political text sent during the 2022 election cycle.
“The entities, which we had difficulty identifying, were sending messages supposedly on behalf of the candidate that the candidate did not approve of,” he said. “I’ve personally taken a couple of them.”