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New Medicare cards are an opening for hustlers

Revised Medicare cards are going out this month to New Mexico residents so a reminder about the inevitable scams associated with the roll-out.

The new cards are required under a federal law that mandated removal of Social Security numbers as an identifier. This is meant to be an important protection against identity theft.

Instead, the revamped cards include a unique “Medicare Number” that’s made of 11 randomly assigned numbers and letters.

You don’t need to do anything to get the card, including paying someone for any kind of associated service. Remember that, in case you start getting calls from scammers who are trying to collect a fee. Some callers are falsely claiming that you must pay a processing charge required for a temporary card until the new one arrives.

Likewise, ignore bogus Medicare representatives who call and ask for your Social Security number or other personal information.

“Medicare will never call you uninvited and ask you to provide personal information to receive your new card,” the agency says.

It advises that you destroy your old card when you receive the new one by cutting it into small pieces rather than throwing it in the trash, “where a crook can get hold of it.”

Any questions, call the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at 1-800-633-4227.

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If you’re selling your house, you can be vulnerable to identity theft, not to mention the garden-variety types of burglary.

The Realtors Association of New Mexico is warning home-sellers to put away personal items like mail or bills so that the information is not exposed to potential buyers.

“Strangers will be walking through your home during showings or open houses,” association president Connie Hettinga said in a guide sheet for sellers. “Be sure to lock down your computer and lock up your laptop and any other expensive, easy-to-pocket electronics, like iPods, before your showing.”

Also, remove valuables so they’re in a safe place. That goes for keys, credit cards, jewelry and even prescription drugs, Hettinga advised.

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The FBI is warning of a new scam that plays off student debt by promising to reduce or completely eliminate it.

To do this, the callers say, you must first pay an advice fee of $1,500 to qualify.

“Once you pay the fee, you will often find that these companies provide no services or provide minimal assistance that you could have received from the U.S. Department of Education for free,” the agency warned in a recent alert.

Here’s some guidance from the Federal Trade Commission:

• There is nothing that a company can offer you in this kind of situation that you cannot do for yourself for free.

• Avoid any offer that promises quick loan forgiveness, especially if the person contacting you really has no idea as to the specifics of your debt situation. Many scammers will promise to get rid of your debt fast, but in reality, they can’t help you.

• Never pay an upfront fee. In fact, it is illegal for a company to charge you for a service in advance. “Many of these companies fail to deliver on their promises to reduce your debt and won’t return your money.”

Report this kind of scam to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at

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.