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BBB alert: Google, Siri, Alexa directing victims toward scams


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The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning about a scam taking advantage of the trust we place in digital assistants like Alexa and Siri as well as the search engines we use every day.

Action News spoke with victims and experts to find out how they say you can keep it from happening to you.

Champion trick rider Haley Ganzel is spending her week at the Benton Franklin County Fair and Rodeo, but just a few weeks ago she was frantically trying to get her fiancee on a flight to an important last-minute event.

"I just Googled 'Delta' and there was a phone number right underneath the website, so I called," she remembers. "I told them I needed the next available flight. I didn't give times or anything but they knew the exact flight number."

The person on the other end of the line also knew what time the plane was departing, when it would land, and how much tickets cost.

The last-minute flight was almost fully-booked so he offered her a 'promotional seat', but said she had to pay with a Delta Airlines gift card.

Ganzel says this should have been the first of many red-flags, but she was desperate.

"I gave them the gift card number and as soon as I did I thought, 'Oh no, this was probably a scam'," she sighs. "And it was."

Nearly $300 lighter, Ganzel is one of many unsuspecting victims separated from their hard-earned money by scammers.

Now, Tyler Russell with Better Business Bureau (BBB) says those decoy links are tricking digital assistants.

"Scammers are creating fake customer service numbers and bump them to the top of the search results [by] paying for ads," he explains. "When Siri, Alexa or some other device does a voice-search, the algorithm chooses the scam's number because it's first on the page."

Russell says Siri, Alexa and the gang aren't to blame; they're just using a system the bad guys have learned to manipulate.

"They're great to have but they're definitely something you have to watch out for," he says.

But how easy is it to fall prey?

Say you're trying to get out of town, fast.

You ask Alexa for the number to call Delta Airlines.

Your guard is already down because you made the call, and the person at the other end of the phone number you just pulled up is very convincing.

They're hoping you'll miss the red flags, and too often, people do.

"It sounded just like you were on the line with Delta," Ganzel shrugs.

This is why why safety experts recommend you do your homework instead of delegating it to Siri.

"There are so many different scams out there," Russell says. "So many different variations of it. Take an extra five minutes to do your research; make sure you go to the company's official website."

Russell says if you do wind up using a digital assistant to make the call, when it comes time to exchange money: pay with a credit card because it's much easier to dispute fraudulent charges.

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He said it's important to report scams, even if you're not sure it's a scam or not. | Research and report possible scams at BBB: ScamTracker.

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.
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