Once upon a time not so very long ago, consumers desiring a customer service number would simply look it up in the phone book. The Internet age has changed everything. Now people are more likely to go online, enter the name of the business into their favorite search engine, and call the first phone number that pops up. Big mistake.
Your Better Business Bureau is alerting consumers about a recent trend in the scam world. Scammers are buying up toll-free numbers and placing legitimate-looking ads on pages that appear at the top of a list when you search for a company online. Those looking for credit card phone numbers are being hit hardest, but major retailers’ numbers are also being faked.
The goal of the scammers is to either collect your personal information and rip you off by using your credit cards, or steal your ID or install malware on your computer.
Some scammers are setting up imposter websites that mimic the look of a legitimate retailer. They may use the retailer’s name and logo. They use URLs that are confusingly similar to a company’s real one. Sometimes they will buy a phone number that is one digit off from the real one in hopes you will misdial and call them. The goal is always the same: to steal from you.
Things to know for avoiding the scammer
Crooks are banking on the fact that you may be in a rush when you are looking for the customer service number. That’s why they try to be the first number you see when you do your online search. Keep in mind that those slots at the top and sides of search results are for sale and scammers can buy them. Throw them off by remembering these tips:
• Do not trust the first number you see when you do a search.
• If possible, get the customer service number off of the back of your credit card – always the best option.
• Keep a separate record of that number, should your card go missing. Enter it into your cell phone’s directory or write it down and keep it in a safe place.
• Look for the company’s official website and then look at it carefully to be sure it is what it claims to be.
• Some retailers may limit their communications with customers to email. Look for a “Contact us” or “How can we help” link on their site, usually at the bottom or on the side or top of the site’s main content.
• Take extra care when dialing a customer service number to be sure every digit is correctly entered. Remember that one digit off can be a scammer’s number.
If you spot a fake number or website, contact the Federal Trade Commission and file a complaint with them. Go to ftc.gov and click on the pull-down menu under “I would like to...” There you will see “File a complaint.”
Scammers also try to fake government websites in order to get you to enter your personal information. For this reason, remember that official government websites end in .gov and not in .com.
Internet convenience can also make scammers’ jobs easier. Be smart when going online for contact information for your credit cards, favorite retailers or government agencies. If you have questions or concerns about fake customer service numbers or other contact information, reach your BBB by calling (800) 856-2417, or visit our website at bbbinc.org.