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Scam alert: Beware of using your smart device to look up a phone number

Rather than searching the internet to find the phone number of a business, many of us are now simply asking our smart devices to do that work for us. But be careful.

There’s a new warning about letting your smart devices find a business phone number and dial it for you. That seemingly simple request opens you up to an assortment of scams. 

We’ll give you more information on this latest warning and how the scam work. We also have handy tips on how to protect yourself.

Scammers game system on voice assistants

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has issued a warning about using smart devices to look up business’ phone numbers. The reason is that you may end up in the middle of a scam.

It doesn’t matter what kind of virtual assistant you use — Google Home, Alexa or Siri — you may end up talking to a “representative” of a company that is really just running a con. If they say you have to pay by wire transfer or a prepaid debit card or they demand remote access to your computer it’s a scam.


Related: Ex-director of FBI, CIA takes on a phone scammer


How does this happen? First of all, don’t blame your smart devices. They’re being tricked by the scam as well.

The scammers create fake customer service numbers and often buy ads to move them to the top of search results. That skews the algorithm virtual assistants use to find numbers for you and they unknowingly send you to a scam number.

The BBB reports that one near-victim of a scam used voice search to find the number of a major airline so she could change her seating assignment. A so-called customer service representative tried to get the woman to pay $400 in pre-pard gift cards by claiming the airline was running a special promotion.

This is just the latest in a line of increasingly sophisticated phone scams. Some can even trick experts.


Related: New cellphone scam to watch out for can cost you thousands


Protecting yourself from phone scams

You know virtual assistants can’t do everything for you. While they can still dial the names of friends and families, you need to be the smart one when it comes to finding the phone numbers of companies you need to call. The BBB offers this advice:

  • Instead of 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 a confirmation email.
  • Scammers make ads with fake customer service numbers. Voice searches have a difficult time distinguishing a phony listing from a real one. Find the number by going to the official company’s website or from any official correspondence.
  • Use credit cards to pay because it’s easier to dispute such payments. If you pay by wire transfer or a pre-paid debit card there is almost nothing you can do to get your money back.

Smart devices are making it easier to conduct mundane as well as some very cool tasks. However, although they are improving, in many situations they can’t replace your brain — especially when it comes to detecting fraud.

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