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Using third-hand info can open door to potential frauds

Ellen Marks scam column sig

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Here’s an all-too-clear reason why it’s safer to find phone numbers or email addresses on your own rather than relying on a third-party source for the information – even if the third-party source is an employee of a trusted company.

Gloria of Albuquerque recently ordered from Century Link a bundled package that offered a deal with DirecTV. When she called Century Link to postpone a previously scheduled appointment to set up service, the Century Link employee told her to contact DirecTV and provided her with a phone number.

That number, however, turned out to be one digit off from DirecTV’s, she said, and it led her down a rabbit hole of questionable deals that included everything from travel discounts to magazine offers.

A “supervisor” named Mike persisted in trying to sell her something – anything, it seems – including a $100 rebate off her TV service if she would use a gift card to make an advance payment.

“It’s for your well-being,” Mike told her.

Gloria spotted the red flags and hung up.

Stephanie Meisse, communications manager for Century Link, said the company was not aware of the incident but “really apologizes” for what happened to Gloria.

She said the company, in response, has asked customer service representatives to “take additional care in the future when they are providing phone numbers to these customers.”

She urged Century Link customers to contact the company “when it does come to potential scams.”

Amy Nofziger, a fraud expert for AARP, had this advice: “It’s always a good idea to refer to a service company’s website or a recent invoice to make sure you are calling their legitimate telephone number – not (a) number you found through an online search or given over the phone.”

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Let’s say you pay all your taxes on time, you have no criminal record and you have never filed for bankruptcy. Let’s say that because of all that, the government wants to reward you for being a good citizen. In fact, it’s going to send you $9,000.

Do you:

A. Laugh at the caller, then hang up the phone.

B. Swear at the caller, then hang up the phone or

C. Agree that you are a model citizen and pay a $250 “processing fee” on an iTunes card so you can get the government freebie.

An Albuquerque man, unfortunately, fell for the last option and lost $250. He was almost out another $650, but realized he was being taken after the self-proclaimed government granter told him he needed to pay the additional funds to deal with “state requirements.”

If you get such a call, it’s safe to assume the government will not be doling out grants even to the best of U.S. citizens.

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New Mexico just missed being among the 10 worst states for identity theft and fraud. It’s No. 11, according to a ranking by WalletHub that looks at complaints per capita filed in 2016 and so far this year.

The study showed that New Mexicans who were victims of online identity theft lost an average of $9,837 per incident. That category alone put the state at No. 11. It ranked even higher – No. 6 – for the average amount lost to other fraud incidents at $668 per incident.

But the state ranked much higher in terms of going after the perpetrators. New Mexico was No. 22 for the number of people arrested for fraud per capita.

Overall, California residents are most vulnerable to getting separated from their money in these ways, while those in Iowa are the safest, according to the study.

And while the Equifax breach is the most egregious example of mass identity theft, that breach is just one of thousands this year.

The Identity Theft Resource Center’s most recent report says 2017 is on track to register the highest number of breaches since it began tracking in 2005. As of Oct. 10, nearly 8,000 breaches with access to more than one billion records had occurred, representing a 630 percent increase from the previous historic high of 1,093 last year.

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.

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