Beware of These Insidious Customer Support Scams

Have you ever searched online for a phone number? Most of us have. This is especially when we are looking for the contact numbers of companies like Amazon, Google, AOL, Apple, Netflix, Quickbooks, Intuit, or eBay; companies that you might normally contact via email or online chat.

Scammers know that you are going to do this, and they often capitalize on this practice. Basically, they set up a website or re-design a current website, and then they create a toll-free number that people often look for, such as the number for Amazon.com. However, this phone number is a total scam. When people call this number, the scammers literally siphon money from the victims in the form of accessing their PayPal accounts or using gift cards…they then transfer those funds to themselves.

As soon as the victim calls the fake number, they then become part of the scam. The bad guys convince them to perform certain actions or give them information that they can use to access the victim’s money. I was recently indirectly involved in a case like this. It started because the victim had an issue with a recent order from Amazon. She wanted to talk to a person from the mega company to resolve it. She searched online and found a number of sites with a toll-free phone number along with the logo for Amazon Prime.

When she called this number, the bad guys convinced her to give up access to her computer through a remote access service.

This type of service is something that many of us have used. For instance, if you ever contacted tech support at work, the IT department might fix the machine remotely. In the case of this woman, she logged into her Amazon.com account, and the perps could take over her computer right before her eyes. She thought this was legit because they used a service called GoToMyPC, which is a very credible program.

Here’s how the scam was done:

The woman searched for “amazon prime phone number.” She saw several options, including the actual Amazon Prime number. However, there were also a number of fraudulent numbers. This process is called “Blackhat SEO,” and it’s basically search engine optimization done by the bad guys. As you can see, this is what comes up when you search for that phrase:

Take note of the number that has 341 in it. This is the number the woman called. You also might note that the website that shows the number, Creationkit.com, added the page only 17 minutes before the search. This page will disappear in the next day or two, because Amazon will quickly figure it out. However, it will be re-added again and again.

Another website that the bad guys use is called Freshdesk.com. However, in order to stay one step ahead of detection, the site changes up the copy on the page regularly. This helps it avoid detection. For instance, they might change the 341 telephone number to 34I, using the uppercase letter I. You can easily see this if you copy and paste the number in a browser address bar.

Scammers make this even more “legitimate” by using sites such as LinkedIn as their base.

A lot of people use LinkedIn Pulse, including myself, to post content online. So, it doesn’t seem unusual when scammers do this to post fraudulent numbers.

In this case, a scammer is calling himself by the name of “Victor Alexis.” He posted to LinkedIn eight times in a single day. But, to avoid detection, he altered the content each time.

The day after he did this, LinkedIn discovered it and deleted them.

Though that’s all well and good, the big issue is that “Victor” can simply create more, and can probably do this for months, or years, or for eternity. In fact, I had a hunch about this, so I put in the search term “Paypal phone number,” and guess what I found…on the first page was the toll-free number posted on none other than Creationkit.com.

After I did an additional search on CreationKit I found the following toll free numbers, all of which support scams for numerous sites. And part of my including these numbers in this blog is if you got to this site because you searched for a toll free customer service number, you now know these numbers are associated with a scam:

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Now, back to the woman who came to me in a panic. She was worried, of course, especially about malware, as this could affect her bank accounts, PayPal account, and other things. Actually, from the moment she allowed this person into her machine, she became a potential victim. She literally saw them go through her Amazon account to buy gift card for themselves, but when they asked her to log into her PayPal account, she hung up and immediately shut down her PC.

I assured her that this was not her fault, but she had to be sure not to do it again. She is now “cyber scam” aware, and I doubt she would ever do this again. It is not likely that any of her accounts will be affected, but I advised her to change all of her passwords. I also told her to scan her computer for malware, and even consider re-installing her OS. I also advised getting a credit freeze for a time or investing in some type of identity theft protection.

Here's the deal. This isn’t the first or the last scam ever. It’s just one of many thousands you will come across in the course of your lifetime. The key here is being aware of what you are doing online, on your computer and what links you click and what they mean. Here’s an analogy: When I walk outside, no matter where I am, I pay attention to everything around me, this is called situational awareness. I’m looking front, back, to the side and even above me and definitely below me. Below me means where I’m walking so I don’t trip and even more important, like clicking a scammy link, so I don’t step in poop!