Police urge vigilance as phone scammers strike with holiday season approaching

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Scammers have set their sights on grandparents and families in the metro, as Kansas City, Mo. police have noticed a spike in suspicious phone calls with the start of the holiday season.

One of the targets was 78-year-old Patsy, whose last name we are keeping private to protect her from other criminals.

“Well, I just don’t like it,” she said of the dozens of calls she’s received during the past few weeks. “It is an invasion of my privacy.”

She said the man on the other end of the telephone had a foreign accent and said he worked for Reader's Digest. He told her she won millions, but to claim her grand prize, she needed to pay hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees. It’s money he wanted her to deliver through prepaid credit cards or Western Union.

It’s a story Patsy just didn't buy.

“So when he called back, I asked him if he thought I had just fallen off the turnip truck,” she said.

But the man hasn't stopped calling, so she called police.

“It’s an unsolicited contact and we always need to be wary of that,” said Jason Cooley, a community interaction officer with the East Patrol Division of the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department. “It’s basic stranger-danger.”

Cooley said as we near the holiday season, there's been an increase in reports of these devious scams across the metro.

“A lot of times, if it seems too good to be true, it is,” he said. “Don’t give him any personal information over the telephone. If it’s someone calling asking for a donation of some sort, don’t do it.”

It’s an international crime that reaches far beyond Kansas City – defrauding thousands of Americans out of $1 billion each year, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Cooley said these cases are hard to investigate and prosecute because so little is known about the suspect and they're hard to trace. So officers will accept a police report and offer advice, but it's really up to you to hang up the phone and protect yourself from these scammers.

And if Patsy could give all those con-artists a piece of her mind, she'd say, “Get an education and do something better with your life. Quit targeting little old ladies!”