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Equifax hack raises stakes for watching bank, credit activity

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The threat of identity theft continues to make headlines in the aftermath of the giant Equifax breach.

There is much to be concerned about, obviously, but in case you’re prone to panic, fraud expert Amy Nofziger has a message for you:

“I do personally believe people need to take a collective deep breath,” says Nofziger, who does work for AARP’s Fraud Watch Network. “Just because the front door was kicked in doesn’t mean the TV was stolen. Yes, you might have been breached. It does not mean you were a victim of identity theft.”

Still, consumers must remain vigilant, she said.

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By now, you likely have read the recommendations to closely monitor accounts and to consider placing a security freeze on your credit report, which generally prevents new credit and accounts from being opened in your name.

In addition, here are some signs that you might have been a victim of fraud or identity theft, courtesy of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:

• Credit inquiries from companies you’ve never contacted

• Money missing from your bank account. Contact your bank or credit union immediately if you suspect an unauthorized transaction.

• Bills that you used to get are no longer being delivered to you

• Incorrect personal information on your credit reports. Note that even a small charge can be a sign of fraud, so pay close attention to any charges you didn’t make, in addition to accounts you don’t recognize.

It’s also worth being extra wary of medical identity theft, in which someone uses a stolen Social Security number to gain access to Medicare services.

For now, a Medicare number consists of a person’s Social Security number followed by a code. That will change next year, in a step aimed at cutting down on medical identity theft.

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In the meantime, “everyone should learn how to spot red flags of medical identity theft,” Nofziger says.

That will require reading closely your explanation of benefits on the notice you get after you have received services.

“Make sure what’s being charged to your insurer is the services you actually have,” Nofziger says.

Be suspicious when your health plan rejects a legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit. Sometimes people won’t report a questionable charge because the money isn’t coming out of their own pocket, but that’s a mistake, Nofziger says.

A fraudulent procedure or prescription listed on your health record could have a “significant effect” on decisions your doctor might make in the future.

“Don’t let it go because you’re not the one paying for it,” she said.

Under federal law, you have the right to know what’s in your medical files.

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Did robocallers annoy you more than usual last month?

If so, you’re not alone. New Mexico was No. 5 among states that saw the largest monthly increase in robocalls in August, at 20 percent, according to the YouMail Robocall index. YouMail, based in California, provides telecommunications services, including call-blocking technology.

That amounted to nearly 11 million robocalls made to New Mexico residents in that month alone, which is actually a drop in the bucket compared to the record-breaking 2.9 billion robocalls nationwide.

Residents with the state’s 505 area code received 7.9 million robocalls in August. To better show how annoying that is, that number equates to roughly 4.3 calls per person affected.

In the 575 section of the state, 2.8 million calls were placed, equal to about 5.6 calls per person affected.

The YouMail report showed that Atlanta won the Most Robocalled City for the 21st month in a row.

Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at emarks@abqjournal.com 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.

 


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