Avoid Smart Device Voice-Activated Scam

August 20, 2019, 4:26 PM HST (Updated August 21, 2019, 9:26 AM)
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Asking your smart devices for phone numbers may not be smart at all, according to an Aug. 20, 2019, press release from the Better Business Bureau.

You can tell Alexa to play for your favorite song, ask Siri about the weather or use Google Assistant to turn down the air conditioner. But don’t ask your smart device to look up a phone number because it may accidentally point you to a scam, the release said.

How the Scam Works

You need the phone number for a company, so you ask your home’s smart device to find and dial it for you. But when the company’s “representative” answers, the conversation takes a strange turn.

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It turns out this “representative” isn’t from the company at all. Scammers create fake customer service numbers and bump them to the top of search results, often by paying for ads. When Siri, Alexa or another device does a voice search, the algorithm may accidentally pick a scam number.

One recent victim told BBB.org/ScamTracker that she used voice search to find and call customer service for a major airline. She wanted to change her seat on an upcoming flight, but the scammer tried to trick her into paying for $400 in pre-paid gift cards by insisting the airline was running a special promotion.

Tips to Avoid This Scam

  • Be careful when searching for support phone numbers. Rather than doing an online search or letting your smart device look up a number, use the contact information on the business’s website (double check the URL), on your bill, or in your confirmation email.
  • Beware of fake ads. Scammers make ads with fake customer service numbers. Using voice search to find a number can make it harder to tell a phony listing from the real one. Get your information from the official company website or official correspondence.
  • Make payments with your credit card. It’s easier to dispute a credit card payment. Paying by wire transfer or prepaid debit card is like using cash. There is almost nothing you can do to get the money back.

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