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Don’t fall for the double-digit phone scam

Scam calls are tricking people into setting up temporary phone numbers for crooks.

 

You post an ad to sell something — your car, your bike, that bedroom set you no longer need.

You get a text message from an eager buyer.

They want to call you, they say, and when they do, just enter this code on your phone to connect — 88, or 67, or 21, whatever number they give you.

No, you scream, don’t do it! 

But many people already have.

“I just fell for it (idiot),” wrote a victim online.

“I just had this same scam happen via craigslist,” said another. “I was really busy and distracted so didn’t catch myself until it was too late.”

“I knew it was a scam the moment I put in the number,” said a third. “It’s like I knew it was stupid, but felt compelled to do it anyway. “

What did they just do?

They gave their permission for crooks to set up a scam phone number connected to their number, so the criminals can trick even more people. 

 

Double-digit phone scam conversation between scammer & victim, according to commenter on Google user forum. Image via: Google user forum

 

How it works

The bad guys like to use Google Voice, a free phone number you can set up through Google.

They can pick a number in a certain area code so they can focus their scam on that area.

For example, if you want to rip off people in Philadelphia, you could choose a 215 or 267 number to make it look like you’re in town — and not a criminal from overseas.

But Google caught on to the bad guys scooping up batches of free Google Voice numbers, so they changed the rules on how many Google Voice numbers you can have for each regular phone number.

Now crooks are hunting for victims with fresh phone numbers so they can piggyback on your account.

That’s where the double-digit phone trick comes in.

 

Double-digit phone scam conversation between scammer & victim, according to a blogger. Image via: Things that stick in my craw

 

Trickery

If you want to sign up for a Google Voice number, you have to have a regular phone number already.

Google Voice says it will call your regular phone to verify.

You need to punch in the two-digit code they show you on the sign-up screen.

 

Google Voice verification screen. Image credit: Cranial Borborygmus

 

Let’s say your phone number is 888-888-8888.

If the crook wants to jump on your account, they tell Google Voice that they want a free Google Voice number connected to 888-888-8888.

Google Voice says it will call 888-888-8888 to verify, and that the crook should enter 55.

So, the crook has to convince you to enter 55.

The bad guys found an easy way to do — respond to your online ad, tell you that they’re calling, and ask you to enter 55 to connect.

Many times, it works.

 

 

Another victim reports the double-digit phone scam on a Google user forum.

 

What happens to you?

The crooks get a fresh Google Voice number to do their dirty work.

But your results may vary.

Some victims report getting calls from other victims.

“I am getting scads of unwanted calls from people believing I have a home to rent in Florida or Michigan, thanks to some craigslist scammer who stole my Google Voice number,” said JW Stein at the beginning of May. “Funny part is (…hear me laughing…), I didn’t know I had a Google Voice number.”

Others may see no effects — except the dirty feeling that they helped a scammer in his seedy game.

Google says either way, you need to reclaim your number.

 

Text message from Google Voice scammer. Source: Google user forum

 

Reclaim your number

How do you do that?

Google referred us to a user forum where a commenter named bluescat posted a step-by-step explanation.

Here are the highlights:

 

—You must take your personal number back, away from their Google Voice account.

—If you don’t have a Google Voice account, go to https://www.google.com/voice and create one. 

—You’ll need to borrow a friend’s number to start the account because the scammer is using yours.

—Your friend’s phone will get the verification call.

—Add your real number back to the account and remove your friend’s number.

 

Reclaim your phone screen from Google Voice. Image credit: labnol.org

 

If you already have a Google Voice account, go to your account and add your own number back, he said.

“In many cases, the scammer has already removed your forwarding phone number from their account already,” bluescat said. “Their goal is not to forward calls to your personal phone number, but merely to use it as an ‘admission ticket’ to get their own Google Voice number, use it to scam others, get rid of that number, and then repeat the scam over and over.”

A “hit and run,” he said.

 

A double-digit phone scammer tricked someone into dialing the code by adding a “#02” after the phone number. Source: Google user forum

 

Too easy

Some victims lamented that the Google Voice verification system made the “hit and run” very easy.

Posters reported that when you answer the phone, you hear this:

 

“Welcome to Google Voice. Please enter your two-digit verification code.”

 

When you hit the numbers, you hear this:

 

“Your number has been verified.”

 

But you might not know what you just verified. And this scam has been going on for years.

One victim recommended that Google provide a more detailed description, like this one:

 

 “This phone is now linked to a Google Voice account with the phone number (555)555-5555. If this is correct, enter 1, if not, enter 2.”

 

Google

Archer News asked Google about this scam.

The company said it has now changed the verification process for updated Google Voice apps to help prevent the trick.

An update went out in January.

However, older versions of the app may still be problematic, according to Google.

The company said it is still working on fixing the problems.

 

Double-digit phone scam conversation between scammer & victim, according to Google user forum poster. Image: Google user forum

 

Watch out

That means you still need to watch out for the double-digit phone scam.

Even people with a lot of experience online say they were caught off guard.

“I’m such a dummy,” said one victim. “I fell for [it] this, this morning. As much as I’ve sold, you would figure I’d be able to sniff this stupid scam out.”

“I just went through the same bull on craigslist looking for work,” said another victim. “It really pisses me off. You look for work, think you get a call, then find out it some [derogatory term] tryin’ to use you.”

“I have dealt with buyers before who had to use special phone devices because of physical handicaps, so it was easy for me to fall for this one,” wrote another. “I won’t fall for it again, and will warn all my friends.”

 

Main image: Photo credit: Alexandra E Rust via Foter.com / CC BY

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