7News Investigates: Fake Customer Service Numbers Duping Consumers

(WHDH) — It’s easy to ignore phone calls from a number you don’t recognize. But people trying to rip you off are finding new ways to trick you into calling them.

Carrie was having trouble with a return. So she searched online for the company’s customer service phone number and called the first one that popped up.

“It looked legit,” Carrie said.

But the number was a fake. The person on the other end asked her to type a link into her browser. She thought it was for printing a shipping label.

Before she knew it, “The cursor was moving and I wasn’t controlling it,” Carrie said.

Whoever was on the phone had complete control of her computer. They quickly bought a $100 gift card, and then another.

“At this point, I was in total panic,” Carrie said.

She said that the person on the phone then started screaming at her.

“And then my screen went black, and then it came back on, and the entire screen was frozen. And at that point, I just powered off,” Carrie said. “I had a really bad feeling, just that there was someone in my home. That’s what it felt like.”

“They know that we want a quick, easy telephone number,” said Steve Weisman, a professor at Bentley University and an expert who said that fake customer service numbers are flooding the internet.

He said that those behind the bogus numbers are paying for ads and tricking online search algorithms to ensure that their numbers show up at the top of your searches. They’re also cleverly placing them on discussion boards on the company’s own websites.

7NEWS searched for customer service numbers for several big-name online companies, and found plenty of fakes. The very first number listed for one company isn’t real, and is also listed for several other companies. Other fake numbers just looked strange, with exotic characters or unusual formatting.

“That should be an indication that you’re dealing with a scammer,” Weisman said.

Weisman recommends sticking to the company’s official website. He also said consumers should be wary of phone numbers that pop up in search ads. And if you can’t find a legit phone number, email or live chat with the company.

For Carrie, it’s been an important lesson.

“It’s just made me more vigilant about – about everything,” Carrie said.

Experts warn that bad actors are also buying up phone numbers that are very similar to real customer service numbers. So even if you’re just one digit off, you could fall into a costly trap.

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