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FTC study finds stolen identities put to use quickly

Identity thieves waste no time plying their nefarious trade.

Technology researchers at the Federal Trade Commission found this out when they created a database of information about 100 fake consumers to track the use of stolen identities.

They posted the data twice on a website that hackers and others tap into.

“The criminals were quick to pounce,” the FTC said. “After the second posting, it took only nine minutes before crooks tried to access the information.”

The staff recorded 1,200 attempts to access the email, payment and credit card accounts and said the thieves tried to use the fake credit card information for “clothing, games, online dating memberships and pizza,” among lots of other stuff.

“The research shows that Identity thieves are actively looking for any consumer credentials they can find. If your account data becomes public, they will use it.”

What stopped them from gaining access to the accounts, the agency said, was two-factor authentication. This is a procedure in which you must log in not only with your password but with a second form of identification, such as a code that’s sent out to your phone.

It’s not foolproof and doesn’t provide 100 percent protection, but it does help, the FTC says.

How it works: Once it’s set up and you have logged into the online account, a code is sent to your phone via text message. You must use that code for initial log-ins or if you’re using an unrecognized device. Only then can you access your account.

That means a thief would have to have your phone in order to successfully hack.

Many financial institutions offer this kind of protection, as do popular websites.

• • •

Unfortunate, but true: A company out of Georgia is not going to treat you to “100 percent of all funeral expenses up to $35,000.”

An Albuquerque woman recently got one of these offers, which seem to be hitting mailboxes around the country.

The mailing, titled “2017 benefit information for New Mexico citizens only,” says the offer is part of a “state-qualified program to pay your final expenses.”

It comes tax-free if you fill out a form and send it back within five days.

Those who fall for it (the Albuquerque woman did not) are required to pay an application fee and provide personal information.

The mailings are targeted to areas that are populated by the elderly, according to Scam Detector.

• • •

A new twist on scam calls to immigrants involves the Canadian authorities.

This one claims to be from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, with callers telling people they’re under investigation and must pay a fee. The callers, in many cases, instruct people to pay by prepaid or gift card or by money transfer.

In typical scammer fashion, they spoof a Canadian number so that it appears the call is legitimate, according to the FTC.

If you get this call – no matter how much you might want to move to Canada – don’t fall for it. Like its U.S. counterpart, the Canadian agency does not threaten to arrest or deport people nor does it ask to confirm personal information over the phone.

• • •

Alert from the Bernalillo County Treasurer’s Office: Hang up immediately if a phone caller claims to be from the office and asks for credit card or banking information.

The office doesn’t ask residents to pay tax bills, nor does it accept payment, over the phone.

“Residents should never provide their credit card or banking information to unsolicited callers,” a spokeswoman said in a news release.

Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210​.