Whenever we have a problem with a charge or a purchase, it’s comforting to be able to talk to a real person on the phone in an effort to get things resolved. Unfortunately, criminals know that, too, and are eager to take advantage of it. In customer service scams, fraudsters lure their targets into calling phony customer support numbers for payment apps and e-commerce retailers (often Amazon), then impersonate helpful staffers in order to steal money and sensitive personal data from their targets.
Customer service scams can take different forms. You might receive an email saying there’s been fraudulent activity on your payment app (Zelle or Venmo, for example) and warning that you need to call the customer service number listed in the message in the next 24 hours to avoid paying the charge.
You might also get a phone text or instant message that claims to be from a big retailer, saying you have a lost package or need to confirm an order.
Or in an effort to get a problem straightened out, you might do a quick online search for a company’s customer service department and find a toll-free phone number. You don’t realize that the number you found is a fake, from a website with a look-alike name and design that’s been planted on the web by crooks.
No matter which trap is set, when you call the number, the friendly voice at the other end will offer to assist you with the problem. You may be asked for personal information, which criminals can use for identity theft. Or you may be told that whatever problem you have can be resolved if you wire funds or send gift cards to them. In some instances, the crook may even tell you that for him to investigate fraudulent charges, you need to download an app to your phone or computer that allows him remote access. Next thing you know the criminal is breaking into your bank account.
Crooks have come up with an even more sophisticated variation of the customer service scam. You might receive what looks like a letter from a bank or finance company, saying that there’s an issue with your mortgage and that you need to call customer service by scanning the QR code printed in the letter. That code will take you to a look-alike website, where you’ll be asked to type in your personal and payment information, which again will enable the crook to take your money.
Although there aren’t statistics available on customer service scams, news stories describe incidents in which criminals have stolen thousands of dollars from their targets. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB)’s 2021 Scam Tracker Risk Report, e-commerce giant Amazon is the business scammers most often impersonate.