Busy thieves threaten licenses, steal pandemic relief - Albuquerque Journal

Busy thieves threaten licenses, steal pandemic relief

Anyone who is licensed by the state – barbers, counselors, cannabis producers, etc. – has been warned of a scheme in which bogus New Mexico Regulation and Licensing staff or investigators are demanding money from potential victims.

The scammers are telling licensees that they are under investigation, their license may be suspended or an arrest warrant has been issued in their name.

Next, of course, comes the demand for money.

The agency wants its more than 500,000 licensees to know it will not contact them to demand payment of any kind for any personal information without conducting an official inquiry or investigation.

“If you receive such a call, please refuse the demand for payment and hang up,” the department said in a notice.

Tops in fraud complaints

New Mexico came in at No. 1 on a national list – but not in a good way.

A recent report by the Identity Theft Resource Center, idtheftcenter.org, showed New Mexicans suffered the most incidents of government credential and account misuse in 2021, among those who contacted the center.

It received 345 complaints from state residents who said scammers had used their stolen personal information to open or take over government accounts or to apply for benefits. Nationwide, most such cases involved unemployment accounts after benefits were expanded due to the pandemic, according to the Trends in Identity report.

In New Mexico, a legislative report released last year found the state might have overpaid unemployment benefits by $250 million during the pandemic, including an estimated $133 million for potentially fraudulent claims.

But the category in which New Mexico ranked No. 1 also included misuse of other pandemic-related payments, including stimulus and child tax credit payments, whether through the mail “or through an unauthorized account takeover where the bank account information was changed at the IRS portal, or the money was taken from the account where (it) was deposited,” says the report.

These incidents did not necessarily involve faceless fraudsters: “Unfortunately, many who reported the account takeover knew or had an idea of who the thief was, and it tended to be a spouse, ex-spouse or family member.”

The prevention for this type of crime, according to the resource center includes:

• Freezing your credit report.

• Guarding your personally identifiable information including logins and passwords, Social Security number, driver’s license, etc., and refusing to share unless absolutely necessary.

• Using strong, unique passwords, one for each account, and keeping them private without giving to others.

• Using a password manager or the password feature in mainstream browsers to create and remember passwords. Do not use the “remember my password” feature on a website.

• Check your credit reports regularly for any weird activity, such as inquiries for credit that are not from existing creditors and that you did not initiate.

• Watching the mail for correspondence from government agencies and lenders and reviewing it thoroughly so you can act if needed.

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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