Disaster lights a fire under NM con artists - Albuquerque Journal

Disaster lights a fire under NM con artists

Scammers have descended on New Mexico residents, trying to use the state’s devastating wildfires to make a buck.

Those affected by the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fires should be wary of callers claiming to be from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says a consumer advisory from state Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Some thieves are trying to apply for disaster relief using names, addresses and stolen Social Security numbers.

The agency will not call seeking payment for services to disaster victims. In fact, FEMA will not make unsolicited contact to survivors unless they have first contacted the agency or applied for relief.

“Many New Mexico families are dealing with the trauma of evacuation and some have lost everything to the wildfires,” Balderas said in his recent consumer advisory. “It is unimaginable to me that scammers are trying to take advantage of our citizens at such a horrific time.”

If you have any doubts about whether a FEMA representative is legitimate, call the FEMA Helpline at (800) 621-3362. To report a scam, call FEMA’s fraud hotline at (866) 720-5721 and file a report with the state attorney general at secure.nmag.gov/ecs.

FTC’s authority to provide refunds ‘severely hobbled’

When consumers are conned by telemarketing fraud or pyramid schemes, they deserve to get their stolen money back. Same with victims of data security or privacy scams, says a congressional report issued this month.

But, too often, that’s not happening because a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year “severely hobbled” the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to provide refunds to victimized consumers and businesses, the report says. The FTC had used that authority to refund $11.2 billion to consumers in the five years before the ruling.

A fix to restore the agency’s power to provide monetary relief is underway with the proposed Consumer Protection Remedies Act of 2022.

“One of the FTC’s primary responsibilities is defending consumers from predatory scams and fraud,” New Mexico Sen. Ben Ray Luján said in a written statement. “It is high time that Congress reinstate the FTC’s authority to return billions of dollars to victims of unfair and deceptive practices.”

Luján, chair of the Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband, is among the sponsors of the legislation and is hopeful it will reach the floor soon, a Luján staff member said.

The high court, in its opinion, said it was not ruling on whether the FTC powers were desirable, but whether they were authorized by federal law.

The upshot, the Senate report said, was the ruling created “uncertainty for consumers and small businesses who depend on the FTC for relief after being subject to a scam or fraud, or an unfair, deceptive or anticompetitive business practice.”

The report said the FTC’s enforcement powers “had been especially critical in cases involving technology and pharmaceutical companies, including Amazon, Uber (and AT&T.)”

A state breakdown shows the FTC has mailed $12.2 million worth of refunds to nearly 75,000 people in New Mexico, using those powers.

Among the top refunds were $3.5 million from AMG Services for a payday lending scheme and nearly $3 million for the Herbalife multilevel marketing case, according to the Senate report.

Contact Ellen Marks at emarks@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3805 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, prompt 5. Complaints can be filed electronically at nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspx.

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