[ALERT] Customer Service Impostors

Category: Security

A concerned reader wrote to ask if she had been scammed. If you're having trouble finding the customer service or tech support phone number for a large company, there's a reason for that. And scammers are taking advantage in clever ways. Read on for the details of the Customer Service Imposter scam...

Watch Out for Fake Tech Support Numbers

Just a few days ago I got this message: “Hi Bob, I have a question that I hope you can answer. I was locked out of Facebook, and after 48 hours I tried to find a way to contact them for an appeal. Couldn't find any. I Googled the problem and found a toll-free phone number that stated they were Facebook Customer Service. While on the phone with them, they opened a remote session. They did a scan on all my devices and said I was infected with 'the KOOBFACE worm' which they could eliminate. So, I bought their malware fix for $329. Now I'm worried. Was I scammed? If so, what recourse do I have?”

Sadly, the answer to your first question is yes, you certainly were scammed. Facebook does not have a customer service phone number, nor does the company sell anti-malware solutions. I'm sure this is not the number you called, but you may see search listings that claim 650-543-4800 is Facebook’s “customer support” number. It’s actually the main number of Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, CA. If you call that number you will first have to press 1 for Facebook, then 1 again for “customer support” - which gives you a recorded message from “User Operations” saying "Unfortunately we don’t provide phone support at this time."

What they really mean is that they don’t provide phone support, ever, and they never will. Big companies don't want to pay people to talk to customers on the phone. Human labor is expensive. This is especially true for companies that provide free services. You're just not worth the trouble if you're not a paying customer. Even companies that take your money for goods and services would much prefer that you use an automated online method for checking on your orders, tracking deliveries, or arranging a return.

Fake tech support numbers

Tech support scammers use fear and manufactured urgency to persuade people to part with their money. The person who contacted me with the story above told me that she realized soon after the transaction that the amount she paid was a red flag in and of itself. Legitimate anti-malware suites typically cost on the order of $50.

As for getting that (ouch!) $329 back, I suggested filing a fraud report and chargeback with the credit card company or bank. It is equally certain that the scammers did not eliminate any malware from her "devices," as they claimed to do. Instead, they probably installed some. I urged her to run System Restore to return her computer to the state it was in prior to the incident, and then to download MalwareBytes Anti-Malware and run a full system scan for any pesky malware that might remain.

I don't know what anti-virus software she may have already had, but a problem like this could have been avoided with a security product like PC-Matic, which uses a whitelist approach. If a program is not on their list of "known good" executables, it will be blocked.

You're Not Alone

You are not the only victim of this “wrong phone number” variety of customer support scam. The Better Business Bureau receives many complaints annually about toll-free “support lines” that are not what they claim to be. Nor is Facebook the only company these scammers impersonate.

Google, like Facebook, has no support phone number for ordinary users to call. That plays right into the hands of scammers who know exactly what people do when they run into problems with an online product or service:

  • They scour the company’s web site for a phone number, in vain.
  • Frustrated, they search for the company’s name plus “technical support,” “customer service” or some similar search term.
  • Impatient, they dial the first toll-free number that seems to be the support line they want; but it isn’t. The phone number is answered by scammers.

Using one pretext or another, the scammers persuade a victim to allow them remote access to the victim’s computer. They’ll patiently talk you step-by-step through the process of enabling remote access, if necessary. Often this involves downloading and running a screen-sharing program that gives them direct access to everything on your computer.

It’s important to remember: NEVER give a stranger remote access to any of your devices! A scammer with remote access can install malware, disable anti-malware software, change app permissions, steal, encrypt, or delete data, and work other mischief.

If some “support rep” asks for remote access, hang up and don’t call back.

Extinct Viruses and Account Recovery Tools

The Koobface worm, by the way, is pretty much dead. First discovered in 2008, Koobface spread rapidly across Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks via fake private messages that provided a link to a non-existent video. Victims who clicked the link were prompted to download and install a fake Flash plugin update. In fact, they installed Koobface.

Once installed, Koobface snooped around the victim’s PC for passwords, financial account numbers, and other things bad guys can sell, then uploaded such tidbits to a command-and-control server. Koobface also communicated with infected peers, and it could install any other malware its masters chose to send it. Koobface has been all but eradicated by anti-malware suites, but its name is still used to strike fear into the hearts of potential scam victims.

I mentioned earlier why companies with millions (or billions) of customers don't want to provide live human phone support. Instead they provide a web page that allows users who are locked out of their accounts to regain access. Facebook users can visit this Facebook account recovery page and get a code sent to their email or mobile phone, which will enable them to regain access. If you don't have access to your email or phone, Facebook also has a Trusted Contacts option, which lets you choose 3 to 5 friends who can send you a recovery code.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[ALERT] Customer Service Impostors"

Posted by:

Piotr / Poland
26 Dec 2018

Hi people, it's lightly related to the topic but I just received an email from someone pretending to be Amazon customer service. It wants you to update your credit card information to process payment that is being witheld and to continue, you must update your credut card info... Unfortunately it looks pretty decent and some people might fall for it. These scammers are getting better at this.

I received this mail from zendah(at)moviejones.de but it presents itself in mailbox as "Amazon".

Watch out there! Being busy with Christmas and all it's easy to become prey.

Posted by:

26 Dec 2018

Some "customer service impostors" do not wait for you to call them -- they call you!

I got several phone calls from "Windows technical support". The caller, which always spoke with an Indian accent, offers to fix problems with the victim's computer.

Although the impostors call from India, the calls appear as if they were made from local phone numbers. I reported these numbers to the phone service provider and was told that those were unassigned numbers and that the service provider and the police were aware of that scheme. Since the criminals were in India, the police could not deal with them.

Posted by:

26 Dec 2018

It is interesting how around the holidays I have been receiving robocalls from fake charities and fake customer service representatives. One called me about an account, which I don't have, indicating that this is a fraud. I just hang up!

Importantly, I will NEVER allow any "remote access" to my computers. There are too many frauds, hucksters, and phonies out there. Guard yourselves vigilantly!

Thank you, Bob, for this valuable information!

Posted by:

26 Dec 2018

I have one phone number - which neither Facebook nor Google will EVER have, and that's protected by a paid, highly rated call screening app. This trick of calling from spoofed numbers in your area code and often with your prefix, or close, is just annoying but my app picks them off. And I screen calls that do get through, if you're not in my contacts, you leave me a voicemail or we don't talk. Any legitimate business will leave you a message, only scammers don't.

I have used remote access on rare occasions but those have been limited to my initiating contact with my desktop's manufacturer or through Apple Support's app on my iPhone or iPad. NEVER by someone who initiated, or tried to, contact with me first.

Posted by:

26 Dec 2018

I learned a long time back that the likes of Google and Facbook do not talk to customers - for any reason. The latest email scams purport to be from PayPal, telling me that I need to update my details. Simple to tell; just hover over the link in the email - or even the sender's name, and you'll find an address at some server in (in my case) Japan. i just forward them to PayPal and let them sort it out.
The phone scams are even easier. My wife strings them along for a minute or two (if she has time) then tells them she doesn't have a computer. I ask which computer they mean - the Windows10 desktop, the Windows10 laptop, the Win7 laptop, the Win7 desktop, the laptop with XP or the one running Linux? That's if they last that long. One asked how many computers I had. I think my count is about 15 if I include tablets and smartphones... I love scammers - they're so easy to string along :)

Posted by:

26 Dec 2018

We had an elderly friend, a Mac User, who was tricked into sending over $9,000 to a group of scammers for a fake computer rescue. Their method for avoiding prosecution was ingenious.

Our friend was first contacted by a New Jersey company claiming to have found a virus on her computer. After selling her a free AV program for several hundred dollars, they turned her information over to a group of overseas scammers.It was the foreign crooks who managed to frighten her into sending them thousands of dollars in pre-paid debit cards.

When we contacted the Better Business Bureau in NJ, the domestic scammers offered to return the few hundred dollars, claiming to have no connection to their overseas pals. Alas, all evidence to the contrary, the BBB took them at their word, despite similar complaints from others.

The New Jersey company is still in business and insulated from their foreign partners in this scheme.

Posted by:

Bob S
26 Dec 2018

There are very few exceptions of computer support service who you my like to allow access to your computer, like the phone number you would have received with a purchased Apple Computer or a number on your cable or phone bill. And of course only if you initiated the call.

Posted by:

Laurence Howard
26 Dec 2018

I have received numerous phone calls of this type identifying themselves as Microsoft and informing me that my S/W has lost it's registration and unless I call back immediately, my computer will stop working permanently. I also received calls reportedly from HP that my computer is sending error messages and needs to be accessed by them to correct the problem. They know my computer model number and serial number! If they call you, they are scammers!

Posted by:

Oliver Fleming
26 Dec 2018

Hello, Yes I get calls from "Microsoft Technical Support" I reply "Do you know your mother is a prostitute?" They usually then hang up. "If they persist I tell them "I had relations with a woman 20 some years ago. You might be my son. Shame on you trying to cheat your father" Then they hang up. I have a lot of fun with the reply, they get off track and confused.

Posted by:

jim Grant
26 Dec 2018

Several months back I was trying to update my Garmin's maps and there was a problem reaching them. I got an on-screen message to contact Customer Service at provided a number which (Bob, don't tell anyone) I called it. A guy came on and was able to see my home page and he described it to a T. He said the problem was my LapTop and his repair guys could fix it for only $150.I said my son is my guru (I lied) and he will take care of it. Hung up and ran every malware, virus, clean up that I had. Then disconnected. He called the next day trying to take credit for the fix and wanting his $50. The nerve of some people! He's nothing but a scoundrel! I felt like a mouse that escaped the trap. :-) Thanks for all your help and newsletters. Keep it up.

Posted by:

27 Dec 2018

Thank you Bob for a very interesting take on the
wishes of very large companies not to have direct
contact with their customers or prospective customers. For years I have cursed the inability to speak to a human BUT THE WEBPAGES THEY PROVIDE TO DO THEIR JOB FOR THEM ARE OFTEN WRITTEN BY CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF SIX. Do they realise just how much money they are losing by not letting one speak to a member of the sales force to tell them that one is in the process of typing an order and the system will not let one go to a payments page?

OR someone trying to get details of say expensive sanitary units and want to purchase a minumum of 100 installtions. If I was the CEO I would dismiss all of my staff and start all over again - and yes, this did happen to me.

Posted by:

Charlie P.
27 Dec 2018

We used to get calls from somebody with an Indian/foreign accent, telling us that they detected malware on our computer or that our computer was sending out viruses. What he didn't know was that we didn't have an internet connection! My son would get a laugh by leading the caller on, pretending to be an ignorant computer user, attempting (very clumsily) to follow the caller's directions, until the caller got frustrated and hung up, or started cussing, in which case my son would hang up.

Posted by:

27 Dec 2018

Is there any Government agency (FCC.Gov) tasked with policing any of this 21st century technology? The original 13 Colonies had "Commons." As the country & the population grew, villages became cities utilities were built & laws were passed to protect the people. Weren't the Utilities called (The Commons?) Isn't all this mallware & scamming really a more Federal danger to this country than "dangerous immigrants" looking for asylum on our borders? Ike was able to get the Interstate road system built by saying it was needed as Federal Protection. Is there any way to broach this subject without making it political? A minority of voters want to "privatize" everything and get rid of anything that FDR did with the "New Deal". The majority of VOTERS want to the country to go FORWARD into the 21st century. Five of the last 7 administrations went to people who did not get the MOST votes. Does anyone wonder WHY we are a Divided nation? Will we still be a "democracy?" Are we now?

Posted by:

28 Dec 2018

I DID let AT&T use remote access one time...I CALLED THEM on a legit number. I also let Amazon do it....AGAIN A legit number...we were trying to figure out why a book did not load. They could not do it either, so he logged off (not installed anything). And said he would pass the buck up the line. Got called back a couple weeks later and they said try again, they had fixed it, and it worked. But In both cases I KNEW the phone number already.

Posted by:

28 Dec 2018

I received a number of these fake calls, apparently from the same scammer or similar. I make no apology for asking them to listen carefully,then blowing a referee's whistle down the phone as loud as I can - if they want to scam me they deserve a deafening blast.
Strangely, I have not received further calls of this nature since!!

Posted by:

29 Dec 2018

I too use the whistle gambit for scammer calls, but make sure it is a Fox 40 whistle if you want decibels and frequency that will make eardrums hurt. And the sweet thing is, who are they going to complain to about a sore ear?

Posted by:

29 Dec 2018

We NEVER, EVER answer a phone unless we recognize the name/number! If we don't and it's important, they'll leave a message.......ymmv

Posted by:

09 Jan 2019

Microsoft scam! They call with a robot, telling you your computer is about to be hacked by a outside source. Press 1 now if you want to know more, or 2 if this problem has already been resolved. Just Hang up don't push anything.

Posted by:

Chase Davenport
26 Nov 2019

You can actually leave Facebook a voicemail!
After calling 650-543-4800, press 1 for Facebook. Then press 9 for other inquiries. Wait. Do NOT press anything else. (but listen carefully). You will be able to leave a voicemail after the rambling ends. (despite the "Our online resources are the fastest and most effective way to find answers..." part)
Include your name, Facebook account email (spell it out!) and a full description of what's wrong.
Once you have finished your message, press # for the next menu.
At this menu, press 3 to listen to your message, 4 to start over, 5 to continue where you left off, # to send it, or 6 to discard your message and hang up.

For Instagram, this works too but is a little different.
The number is the same, just press 2 for Instagram. No other buttons to press this time around! Just listen and wait for the beep. Also make sure you include your Instagram username and an email where you can be reached. Spell both out!

The part about pressing # after the message is the same.

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