If you want to sell something on an online marketplace, you will often be required to provide your phone number. Some people won’t purchase from you if you don’t.
Unfortunately, providing your number also leaves you open to scams. One example of this is the Google Voice scam. This involves strangers pretending to want to verify your identity but actually wanting to impersonate you.
So, what exactly is the Google Voice scam, and how can you avoid it? Let’s take a look.
What Is the Google Voice Scam?
The Google Voice scam is a method that cybercriminals use to fraudulently obtain Google Voice accounts.
It is achieved by having verification codes sent to the victim’s phone. If successful, criminals obtain an account that cannot be connected to them.
Why Do Hackers Want Google Voice Accounts?
Many online scams rely on the perpetrator having a phone number. For example, if they were trying to sell something, having no phone number listed or having a foreign phone number would be highly suspicious.
Cybercriminals obviously cannot use their own phone numbers. Google Voice numbers look identical to standard phone numbers and are therefore a valuable alternative.
American phone numbers are also particularly valued by cybercriminals because they allow them to appear to be American when trying to steal from people in the US.
Google Voice accounts are typically used to sell non-existent items on the same marketplaces that they are stolen from. But they can just as easily be utilized in romance, investment, and employment scams.
How Does the Google Voice Scam Work?
Google Voice accounts can be created by any person in the US or Canada with a Google account and a phone number. In order to prevent abuse, the person has to receive a verification code sent to their phone.
To skip this step, cybercriminals browse popular online marketplaces looking for anybody who is attempting to sell something.
The perpetrator will respond to the ad, usually pretending to be interested. They will then explain that they first want to verify who they are talking to. They will say that they want to achieve this by sending a code to the victim’s phone.
If the victim agrees, the perpetrator will attempt to sign up for a Google Voice account using the victim’s phone number.
The victim will then receive a text from Google. The text will usually say that it is not be shared. Despite this fact, many people will misinterpret its purpose and provide the code to the perpetrator.
The perpetrator now has an anonymous Google Voice account, and depending on how the interaction ended, the victim may have no reason to suspect anything.
Where Does the Google Voice Scam Occur?
This scam primarily happens on CraigsList. However, it’s one of many social media scams to avoid—and also occurs on the likes of Steam.
You are most likely to be targeted if you are advertising something for sale. But anybody who posts a request for people to contact them is a potential target.
What Happens If You Are a Victim?
The Google Voice scam isn’t particularly expensive when compared to other online scams. If you are a victim, the perpetrator will not gain access to your Google account—and you won’t suffer a financial loss.
The perpetrator will, however, be able to commit cybercrimes on your behalf. And this has the potential to be highly expensive for subsequent victims.
It’s also possible that any investigation of those crimes will eventually be directed towards you. It’s worth noting that this scam is now very well known and therefore easily explained should that happen.
Variations of the Google Voice Scam
If somebody asks you to send them a code, it’s usually the Google Voice scam. This is not, however, the only scam involving verification codes.
Some email accounts ask for a verification code when a user tries to change their password. If your account does this, then a similar scam can be used to hack your entire email account.
If your email account utilizes two-factor authentication and the codes are sent via SMS, a similar scam can be used to obtain that code. This would, however, only be effective if the hacker already has your password.
How to Prevent Verification Code Scams
Phone verification scams are pretty easy to fall for if you’ve never heard of them before. The perpetrators practice every day, and some are highly convincing.
All that’s needed to avoid the scam, however, is to understand that there is no legitimate reason for anyone to ever ask you for a code.
You can also avoid these scams by keeping your phone number private, but this usually isn’t practical. Legitimate buyers are just as worried about being ripped off as legitimate sellers.
It’s also worth noting that nobody can create a Google Voice account with your number if you already have one.
What to Do If You Fall for the Google Voice Scam
Provided you are aware that somebody used your number, it’s easy to take control of it.
If you don’t have a Google Voice account, you will first need to create one by visiting this page. In order to sign up, you will need to provide a different phone number than that which was stolen.
Once you have an account, you will then need to log in and select Add Another Phone.
After providing the stolen phone number, you will receive a warning that the number is already in use. But as you are the only person who can use it to receive a verification code, you will be able to take possession of it immediately.
Google Voice Scams Are an Expensive Problem
If you fall for the Google Voice scam, your personal exposure is very limited. But unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to the people that the criminal contacts next.
Google Voice numbers are routinely used to steal thousands of dollars. They are used for everything from shopping scams to investment scams.
If you don’t want to be an unwitting accomplice, it’s important to take your phone number back as soon as possible.
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