OMAHA, Neb. — “Tell Alexa to play for your favorite song. Ask Siri about the weather. Use Google Assistant to turn down the air conditioner. But don’t ask your smart device to look up a phone number, because it may accidentally point you to a scam,” warns Jim Hegarty, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Nebraska, South Dakota, The Kansas Plains and Southwest Iowa.

How the Scam Works:

You need the phone number for a company, so you ask your home’s smart device — such as Google Home, Siri, or Alexa — to find and dial it for you. But when the company’s “representative” answers, the conversation takes a strange turn. This representative has some odd advice! They may insist on your paying by wire transfer or prepaid debit card. In other cases, they may demand remote access to your computer or point you to an unfamiliar website.

It turns out, that this “representative” isn’t from the company at all. Scammers create fake customer service numbers and bump them to the top of search results, often by paying for ads. When Siri, Alexa, or another device does a voice search, the algorithm may accidentally pick a scam number.

One recent victim told BBB.org/ScamTracker that she used voice search to find and call customer service for a major airline. She wanted to change her seat on an upcoming flight, but the scammer tried to trick her into paying $400 in pre-paid gift cards by insisting the airline was running a special promotion. In another report, a consumer used Siri to call what he thought was the support number for his printer. Instead, he found himself in a tech support scam.

Tips to Avoid This Scam:

• Be careful when searching for support phone numbers. Rather than 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 your confirmation email.

• Beware of fake ads. Scammers make ads with fake customer service numbers. Using voice search to find a number can make it harder to tell a phony listing from the real one. Get your information from the official company website or official correspondence.

• Make payments with your credit card. It’s easier to dispute a credit card payment. Paying by wire transfer or pre-paid debit card is like using cash. There is almost nothing you can do to get the money back.

For More Information

Check out more tips from FTC.gov on security and smart home devices: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2016/07/homework-smart-home.

To learn more about scams, go to BBB Scam Tips (BBB.org/ScamTips). If you’ve been targeted by this scam, help others avoid the same problem by reporting your experience on BBB.org/ScamTracker .

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