According to the BBB, several consumers have recently used voice search to dial the numbers of customer service lines, but were taken instead to scammers. For example, one consumer asked their voice assistant to dial an airline’s customer service phone number. The scammer attempted to convince the consumer to purchase $400 in prepaid gift cards.
Why are consumers dialing scammers instead of legitimate companies? Scammers frequently claim phone numbers and pass them off as customer service lines for real businesses. These scammers then pay for ads so that these phone numbers appear on the top in search results. Voice assistants are unable to tell the difference between a legitimate phone number and the number of a scammer.
This flaw has appeared in all voice assistants, including Google Assistant, Siri, and Alexa. A Google representative noted that, “We work hard to fight against spammers and protect people from scams. When these fake numbers are reported, we remove them.” It is unclear whether Google and other companies are able to remove spam if they have yet to be reported.
The BBB offered three tips to consumers to avoid this particular scam. First, users should use the contact information on a business’ legitimate website, in confirmation emails, or a user’s bill. Consumers should not rely on web searches or voice assistants to dial the correct number. Second, users should be aware of fake ads and get their information from official sources. Last, consumers should make payments with their credit cards when they can. It is much more difficult to get your money back if you pay with a wire transfer or prepaid debit card.
Some voice assistant users may also be concerned about privacy. It was also recently reported that Apple contractors were listening to Siri recordings. Apple hires contractors to “grade” recordings, and determine whether Siri had responded appropriately. These contractors often heard private discussions and sexual encounters, and there was no way for users to turn off this feature. Apple has since put the “grading” on hold and is investigating the issues. Amazon and Google are also making sure that their grading practices comply with privacy laws.