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Sharing a ride could also mean sharing your data

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Your rental car might not be your friend.

A warning issued by the Identity Theft Resource Center last week for the summer travel season points out that using the convenience of a Bluetooth device in a rental car could expose your contacts, text messages and navigation history to the company, to future drivers and to hackers.

That’s because most people don’t know that they need to delete their profile later. In fact, most don’t even think twice about connecting in the first place.

The issue starts when you first get into the rental vehicle with a smart device. You will either be prompted to connect your phone to the Bluetooth system, or it happens automatically.

Connecting is tempting because doing so allows drivers to listen to music or navigate with the help of a GPS system via the car’s speakers.

But Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the resource center, has been on a mission to get people to slow down and think first, ever since she witnessed the problem firsthand.

A few years ago, her phone automatically connected to her rental car’s Bluetooth. Seconds later, a dashboard screen popped up with not only her number, but the names and numbers of past drivers. She immediately disabled the connection and deleted her number.

While many companies have since added to their rental agreements disclosure about using the Bluetooth, most customers don’t read the fineprint.

“The reality is with so many of our connecting (devices), we see this as convenient,” Velasquez said. “I would just really caution people if you’re going to pair up Bluetooth to the device, just realize there’s a lot of data that’s now being stored if you don’t delete it properly.”

Such systems “may store navigation histories that identify locations entered or visited,” according to the Federal Trade Commission. “For features like hands-free calling and texting, they also may store data from a mobile device – like a phone number, the device’s owner, call and message logs, even contacts or text messages stored on the device.”

Velaszuez says if you can’t figure out how to delete your profile “intuitively” or with a user’s manual, have the rental company representative show you how when you return the car.

But first, she says, think about whether the convenience is worth the exposure. You can still listen to your music or your GPS through the speaker on your device.

Otherwise, you risk “adding more information about you to what already exists out there and is available to put together the pieces of your identity,” Velasquez said. “Your behavioral data is a big part of your identity and is very valuable both to legitimate businesses and to the thieves.”

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An Albuquerque landlord says she got a phone call recently from someone threatening to turn off her power unless she paid them money owed.

But here’s what’s noteworthy about this basic utility scam: the call appeared to be coming from PNM, spoofing a number the landlord had as a contact in her phone.

Public Service Company of New Mexico says it’s had more than 65 reports of such calls during the past week from mostly businesses, but also some homeowners in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, and Santa Fe. The scammers are threatening disconnection unless payment is made by pre-paid gift cards, PayPal donation or credit card.

PNM is telling people that if your bill does not contain a bold disconnect notice, “it’s a scam.”

“Customers can call the number on their bill to find the true status of their account,” the utility says.

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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