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N.M. consumers could get more I.D. protection

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico might be removed from a “worst of” list when it comes to consumer safety, thanks to a bill passed unanimously by the House and Senate.

If the governor signs it, the “Data Breach Notification Act” will require companies to tell customers when the customer’s identity has been stolen. New Mexico, Alabama and South Dakota are the only states that don’t have a notification law, said Paul Stull, president and CEO of the Credit Union Association of New Mexico.

“This is the very first time that New Mexico is giving consumers a tool to protect themselves,” he said. “This is a crime that’s insidious.”

Once people know their identity is stolen, they can take steps to prevent financial damage by notifying their credit card companies and placing alerts on their accounts or canceling their credit cards.

Parents and grandparents, be aware of this very scary ploy aimed at playing on your worst fears: the “virtual child kidnapping scam.”

It involves a call from someone claiming to have kidnapped a child in your family. Worst part: you may even hear sounds of a child in distress in the background, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which says this scam has resurfaced recently.

The bad guys will demand immediate payment and often will want you to send it by wire transfer or prepaid credit. The idea is to prompt you to act quickly without thinking or trying to confirm their information. And they know those payment methods make it difficult to trace or recover money sent that way.

Also, they might insist you keep the situation secret and not alert police.

This is yet another family emergency scam, and it sometimes works because scammers can make it sound legitimate. They can easily pick up details about you, thanks to the internet and social media sites, so that what they say has a ring of truth.

“If you get a call like this, resist the urge to send money immediately, no matter how dramatic the story,” the FTC says. “Even if it feels really real, never wire money or pay by prepaid card to anyone who asks you to.”

Hang up on these calls. If you feel uncertain, get in touch with the child’s school or relative to reassure yourself about their welfare.

Also, consider limiting access to social sites on which you post information about yourself. Obviously, never post your Social Security number or other private information.

New Mexicans reported 15,916 scams in 2016, a nearly 10 percent increase over the year before, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s annual study.

Debt collection was by far the most-often reported fraud among the nearly 15,916 complaints filed in the state in 2016, at 29 percent. Coming in at No. 2 were imposter scams at 16 percent. Imposter scams include calls from fake IRS agents, law enforcement agents and others who pretend to be someone in authority to bilk you out of money.

Among the 2,016 complaints about identity theft, the most common was employment- or tax-related identity theft. In the first case, the scammer steals your Social Security number and uses it to get a job. In the second, someone is seeking to get a tax refund in your name.

Santa Fe continued to rank near the top of metro areas for per-capita fraud, coming in at No. 8 with 816 complaints.

Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at emarks@ 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.