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Here’s two clever and convincing hoaxes to avoid

If you get a phone call from a “PC doctor,” or something similar-sounding, that says it owes you $400, it’s a scam, says the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department.

The caller is not trying to send you money but instead is seeking to gain remote access to your computer and then lock you out while accessing all the information in your files, the sheriff’s office said.

“Remember, phone scams are very realistic and sophisticated,” a news release says. “You should never provide personal information, access to computers, passwords or exchange large amounts of money over the telephone unless you know who you are talking to.”


Is it real or is it yet another scam?

I’ve gotten a number of calls from Albuquerque residents, wondering about a letter they have received from the U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management.

The agency was subject to a huge hack last summer that compromised personal information, such as birthdates and Social Security numbers. More than 21 million people were affected, 25 percent of whom also had their fingerprint records stolen.

The agency is mailing out about 10 million letters to victims notifying them that their information was stolen, although not necessarily misused. The letter provides a PIN number and offers free identity theft protection and credit monitoring services.

The question is, do you risk getting scammed again if you respond? In fact, there are some reports of hoax letters, according to the Better Business Bureau, but there are ways to tell whether the letter is legitimate.

First, know that you don’t have to be a U.S. federal employee to receive this letter. The breach was so widespread, that it affected former employees, federal job applicants, spouses and others living with an employee as listed on federal background investigation applications and even those who worked or volunteered with a federal agency but were not employees.

Legitimate letters will include a 25-digit PIN that allows you to register for the free services. Make sure your PIN is authentic by entering it at opm.gov/cybersecurity. The letter also includes instructions to visit the website to get more information and to sign up for monitoring.

The BBB says scammers “love to take advantage of large government initiatives.” They went to work, for example, when the Affordable Care Act was rolled out.

Avoid a hoax with the following information:

  • The Office of Personnel Management will not contact you for personal information, nor will anyone supposedly acting on its behalf. If you are contacted by anyone claiming otherwise, don’t give out personal information.
  • Email is not used in this round of notifications. While the agency last summer did initially email those affected by the breach, it is now using the Postal Service. “An email claiming otherwise is a scam,” the BBB says.
  • If you have lost your PIN or didn’t receive a letter when you think you should have, contact the agency’s verification center at the website listed above.

For more information about the breach or the letters, go to the website listed above.

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 1-800-678-1508.

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