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Scam alert: Avoid asking Google Assistant for a support number (Update)
Update, August 22, 2019 (1:47AM ET): Google has responded to a blog post by the Better Business Bureau, claiming that scammers are targeting Google Assistant. It’s alleged that several people using Assistant to call customer support numbers are actually calling scammers posing as customer service representatives.
It’s claimed that scammers are able to accomplish this by getting a false support number to the top of search results, with ads apparently used as one method to rise up the ranks.
“We work hard to fight against spammers and protect people from scams. When these fake numbers are reported, we remove them,” the company told Android Authority in an emailed statement.
Google added that its system is designed to prioritize authoritative sources, but that it wasn’t perfect. In fact, the company said it recently completed a manual review of contact information for over 1,000 companies.
Google also said Google Assistant doesn’t read out ads, and that it doesn’t play ads on platforms like Google Home. In any event, the search giant said it removes ads when found to be misleading. The company claimed that it took down over 2.3 billion bad ads in 2018 — equivalent to six million ads daily.
Original article, August 21, 2019 (10:36AM ET): Using Google Assistant on your smartphone or smart speaker can make your life so much easier. However, there’s a support number scam that’s seen making its way around the internet recently that uses our dependence on Google Assistant to put us in a scammer’s sights.
The Better Business Bureau published a warning blog post about two individual cases of people getting trapped by this support number scam. There are likely many more cases out there, though.
The scam starts with a person asking Google Assistant (or Alexa, or Siri, or any other virtual assistant) to find and dial a customer support number for a company. The assistant performs a search and then dials a number and places the person on a call with a “customer support representative.”
However, that support rep is actually a scammer who can now try to trick the victim into forking over some cash.
The best way to avoid this scam is to manually search for and dial customer support numbers.
One of the people the Better Business Bureau used as an example of this scam asked a virtual assistant to call the support line of a major airline. She simply wanted to change her seat on her upcoming flight, but the person on the phone tried to convince her to buy $400 in prepaid gift cards, insisting that the airline was running a special promotion of some kind.
How do the scammers trick the assistants? It’s actually really simple: scammers work to get a false support number to the top of Google Search results (usually through paying for ads). When a virtual assistant searches for a specific support number, it grabs that false result and places the call. If the request to call the number is placed through a smart speaker such as a Google Home, the victim doesn’t even have any idea which number has been dialed and simply assumes the person on the other end of the call is a trustworthy employee of the company in question.
Read next: Common phone scams you should be aware of
The best way to avoid this support number scam is to manually search for and dial customer support numbers. Stay safe out there!