New Mexico officials launch awareness campaign on behavioral healthcare scams

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico’s attorney general and the state Human Services Department are launching a campaign to fight against behavioral healthcare scams.

AG Raul Torrez and HSD Secretary Kari Armijo announced the “Don’t Be Taken For a Ride” public awareness campaign Friday. It encourages calling the 988 crisis lifeline to report suspicious activity surrounding these scams.

In April, officials with Street Safe New Mexico told KOB 4 the issue has been ongoing since January. They said scammers, usually in white vans, reportedly convince homeless people they can get free rehab and housing if they come with them to Arizona.

“Once in Arizona, people were made to sign up for a specific type of Native health insurance and also sign up for Arizona food stamps. Then, [they’re] kicked out and stranded in Arizona,” Barber said. “The whole scam is they would use that person’s name in their so-called rehab but use that person’s name to pretend they are a patient, then bill for services that they rendered,” said Christine Barber, executive director of Street Safe New Mexico.

It isn’t just affecting homeless people in the Albuquerque area. Places near the Arizona border, like Farmington and especially Gallup, have felt the brunt of this.

“Gallup Police Department has looked into 32 reports of missing person cases, suspected of being taken to the Phoenix area. 18 of those cases have been closed. 14 are still active,” Chief Erin Toadlena-Pablo said in May.

Also in May, a TikTok video, recorded in Gallup, spurred discussions among law enforcement about the scams. The video appears to show scammers trying to lure a Native American man toward their truck until a bystander steps in.

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office is looking for tips into possible perpetrators with the hope of prosecuting them.

Officials say the 988 crisis line will always accept calls from those in a crisis. 988 callers can receive behavioral health services referrals and report suspicious activity. The hotline will also document tips and transfer calls to special agents within the New Mexico AG’s Office.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the FBI are also investigating and suspending suspected Arizona scammers.