Personal Finance

Need help? Beware of fake customer service phone numbers

When you need help, it's tempting to look up a customer service phone number online. But these days that can be very dangerous.

Need help? Beware of fake customer service phone numbers
Scripps News

Have you run into issues with an account or had a problem with an online order? Reaching out to customer service can be a huge challenge since many companies no longer list phone numbers.

The problem is that the numbers you find through a simple Google search may not be phone numbers you can trust.

Woman scammed trying to get help from Facebook

Sylvia Phillips has been cleaning up her home this summer and posted a few items to sell on Facebook Marketplace. That's when the scams started.

"I got an immediate reply from a lady who asked if the items were still available, and I said 'yes,'" she said.

The so-called buyer told her to download a Google Voice code and text it back to verify her identity. She did, but it didn't feel right, and she immediately suspected a scam.

"At this point, I'm like, oh my God, what have I done?" Phillips said.

So she decided to call Facebook customer service for help.

"I Google numbers for customer service, and several came up. And I called the first one," she said.

She got a helpful agent who told her to download an app onto her phone, and he would check to see what was going on. But that was scam No. 2.

"I now see that any customer service numbers for Facebook are scams," Phillips said. "You can only contact Facebook online."

But it was too late. She had downloaded an app that lets someone remotely take control of your laptop or phone.

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Amy Nofziger with the AARP Fraud Watch Network says searching for a phone number anywhere other than a company's website could lead to trouble.

"We know that criminals are placing fake customer service phone numbers online," she said.

Sometimes that search will even take you to a look-alike website.

How to protect yourself

Instead, she says to follow the prompts for getting help on the company's site. The company may offer a live chat or an email address.

Nofziger says you can easily stumble upon these fake numbers when you are trying to reach a company like Facebook that has no way to speak with a live person.

"Oftentimes when people are trying to circumvent to get a secret back door, that's when they find the criminal," Nofziger said.

She says if you're on the phone with a help line, hang up if the representative pressures you to give up personal information like a PIN, or if they ask for gift cards or payment via Zelle or Venmo.

Phillips has now changed all passwords and put a fraud alert on her accounts.

"You just can't take anyone at face value anymore," she said.