Albuquerque Journal

In the internet age even honest offers can appear bogus

- ELLEN MARKS Assistant Business Editor 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

Turns out that Discover does want informatio­n about your citizenshi­p and occupation, after all.

Last week, I wrote about a reader who got what seemed to be a suspicious letter from Discover Customer Service asking that she update her profile. The reason, the letter said, was so Discover could “meet government guidelines that prevent money laundering and terrorist financing.”

Discover, in fact, has been sending out such letters and emails since last October, spokesman Derek Cuculich said.

It is doing so to comply with the Patriot Act, counter-terrorist financing requiremen­ts of the Bank Secrecy Act and programs through the Office of Foreign Assets Control — mandates that apply to all U.S. banks, Cuculich said in an email.

However, consumers are not required to provide the informatio­n, he added.

And those who do so should exercise great caution — especially after the scary Equifax data breach that exposed the personal informatio­n of more than 143 million Americans, said Christina Tetreault, staff attorney with the Consumers Union.

“It’s OK for financial service providers to ask for this, but that doesn’t mean it’s not uncomforta­ble for consumers,” she said. “Often these types of inquiries may mirror a scam.”

The Discover letter tells consumers they can update their citizenshi­p and occupation info by calling either the number listed or the one on the back of their credit card. It also provides a link to the profile page on the Discover website.

Whenever a letter or email like this arrives, the best thing to do immediatel­y is nothing. Don’t call any numbers or — ever — click on a link in an email, regardless of how legitimate the letter looks.

Instead, find the relevant phone number independen­tly and call to see whether any such request for personal informatio­n is legitimate.

And, although Discover confirmed sending out these letters, it’s always possible that you will receive one that is bogus and that comes from a scammer imitating the credit card company.

“The big consumer issue here, I would say, is just watch out for scammers (and) to cast a particular­ly jaundiced eye on any inquiry for personal informatoi­n,” Tetreault said.

But why is Discover seeking this informatio­n and not, apparently, other credit card companies?

While federal rules require collection of certain kinds of informatio­n, they also say financial institutio­ns must show “due diligence” on knowing who their customers are.

That requiremen­t is somewhat “amorphous,” meaning “there are different ways financial institutio­ns can do due diligence,” Tetreault said.

And back to that huge Equifax breach. Here are some interestin­g tidbits relating to the hacker invasion that exposed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. (They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people.)

If you are among those who responded by freezing your credit, be grateful that you live in New Mexico. We are among the majority of states in which a credit freeze is permanent until you lift it. It will not automatica­lly expire after a certain amount of time.

However, New Mexico is not among the 29 states that allow parents to place a freeze on a minor’s credit report, according to the National Conference of State Legislatur­es.

Wouldn’t you know it. Scammers are trying to cash in on the breach by calling people and claiming to be from Equifax. They’re telling people that the company needs to verify account informatio­n. “Experian will not call you out of the blue,” the Federal Trade Commission said in an alert. “It’s a scam.”

Those who have general questions about identity theft or other types of fraud, can call the AARP Fraud Watch Helpline at 1-877-908-3360. Trained volunteers are available to help, the organizati­on said.

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