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Good citizens are appreciated, but not this much

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A scam that’s not very sophisticated – someone calls and tells you the government is giving you a good citizen grant because, well, you’re such a good citizen – has become a shade more deceptive.

Be forewarned.

Albuquerque resident Strail Keyohara got the pitch recently offering him more than $11,000 with a phone number to call to collect his goodies. But here’s the thing: the caller asked him questions, indicating that she knew his age and address (including ZIP code), along with his marital status and the fact that he’s retired.

Keyohara didn’t fall for it, but someone else might if they’re convinced a caller would have to be legitimate to have such accurate personal information.

Regardless, the government does not call you on the phone and give you money – no matter what kind of stellar citizen you might be.

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You know that free health screening offer you might see at a community center, a local health fair or at the mall?

It might not be so good for your health.

The Better Business Bureau says it’s getting reports of identity theft and other fraud stemming from scammers who hook people with these kinds of free offers.

The fraudsters might make it seem legitimate, the BBB says, by doing some standard work such as measuring blood pressure or cholesterol levels.

Their real goal, though, is to get you to fill out a sign-in sheet that asks for a Medicare or Social Security number. In some versions, the “health company reps” will claim your insurance plan will cover the screening cost and send you the results. All you need to do is provide your ID and plan information.

“Scammers can use this information to bill your insurance for thousands of dollars worth of tests, gain access to your personal genetic information or simply to steal your identity,” the BBB alert says.

Here’s how to guard against this kind of scam:

⋄  Protect personal information. Never give your medical insurance ID number, Social Security number or banking information to strangers.

⋄  Never trade personal information for “free” tests.

⋄  Don’t consent to lab tests without direct orders from your doctor. Protect yourself and your health insurance benefits.

⋄  Keep a close eye on correspondence from your medical insurance provider. Inform your provider right away if you notice any unauthorized changes or charges.

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This story goes to show that even the most absurd phishing scams can trick people into clicking on a link.

Ohio State University conducted a deliberate student-focused phishing exercise earlier this year, similar to what some corporations have been doing, to test response and teach people how to be more suspicious.

The school reported that 18 percent of those targeted clicked through on the look-alike phishing emails sent out as part of the drill. The emails had to do with financial aid, holidays, resetting passwords or other topics, but they contained signs of potential fraud, such as generic greetings, requests for urgent action or information, spelling errors and senders from unfamiliar domain names.

The responses appeared to be an improvement over an earlier trial run in which a message about a second-floor printer generated clicks – even from people working or living in buildings that didn’t have a second floor.

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.