by Jenny Smedra
Well it finally happened. As embarrassed as I am to admit this, I was the victim of a scam. I’ve worked with several websites and preached the importance of online safety for years. But even the most cautious of people can sometimes be vulnerable. It just goes to show that even those who are aware of the dangers of internet fraud can give up their vigilance and fall for a scam.
How it happened…
In an effort to start debugging, my father and I have spent the past few weeks sorting garbage and taking photos of things for sale. I recently published some articles on Craigslist and other online marketplaces. After a few successful sales, my father seems even more motivated to keep posting new articles. This was a big step for him; However, he is overwhelmed by the amount that remains to be done. So I agreed to help manage the listings and respond to potential buyers.
Since I used my father’s contact information to set up the accounts, I couldn’t use the official messaging apps through the platforms. So I provided my phone number to help him manage the call volume. While I know this can be risky, I also knew it was much easier to communicate directly with people themselves. I also found that I had enough common sense and knew how to protect my personal information. Unfortunately, my over-consciousness was my first mistake.
Last week I received a text from someone interested in my post listing children’s bikes for sale. The person said they would be willing to pay cash. But first they wanted to make sure I was a real person and not a bot. In reality, the scammer tricked me with a plausible story. Since I was doing multiple multi-tasking projects and was looking to sell some of the larger items that are taking up space in our garage, I didn’t think twice about it. I was so focused on selling that I failed to recognize the tell-tale signs.
The Google Voice Scam
What I didn’t realize was that I was being scammed. This scam involves international scammers who use Google Voice verification codes to obtain a US number. Once they have the number, they can use it for other illegal activities or phone scams.
The way it works is for them to find your number online. The most common source is websites like Craigslist. However, scammers can get it anywhere you’ve made it publicly available. Once they have your number, they will contact you by text or email. My scammer posed as a potential buyer who was skeptical of online postings. So, before calling, they asked for a Google verification code to prove it was real. Instead of seeing the hook, I just thought it was someone trying to be careful. Since I am usually very careful myself when speaking to people on online forums, this seemed like a wise safety precaution.
I replied that I was actually a real person. I even offered to call her myself. The scammer replied that he used a calling service that only allowed outgoing calls and required a six-digit code to confirm. While this should be my second red flag, I have used similar services myself while living abroad. So I naively played straight into their hands.
Essentially, I’ve provided all of the information needed to set up a new Google Voice account using my phone. After they entered my number, I received an automatic reply with the code. Although there was an explicit warning NOT to give it to anyone else, I just skimmed over the message for the code. The fact that it was in Spanish was the third sign I was going to fall for a scam.
After I sent the verification code, Google gave the number to the scammer using my personal line as the forwarding number on the account. However, the scammer tried to double up at this point. They replied that my number was not eligible for codes. So they asked for an additional number to send the code again. In truth, they were looking for a second number to set up another Google Voice account. About 30 seconds after that reply, I reread the original message and realized what I had done.
Limit damage after falling for a scam
I felt a little sick in my stomach and was extremely stupid. I knew I had to act quickly. Instead of panicking or beating myself up for making a mistake, I started looking for solutions. I wanted to do damage control before the scammers had a chance to use my information or take advantage of my stupidity.
After a quick search, I found several discussion threads from people who had done exactly what I had. I also discovered the details of the scam and figured out how to fix it. Fortunately, it seemed like a pretty simple solution, and less serious than other scams that people fall victim to. However, they also stressed the importance of correcting this as soon as possible. Although most scammers look for the US phone number first, they may have access to my Google Account and all of the information associated with it.
In my case, all I had to do was reclaim my number from the Google Voice account they set up. If you already have one, simply add your number to your existing account. Otherwise, you can create a new one and then add the scammed number as a forwarding number for the new account. Within minutes, I was able to be one step ahead of the scam by following these simple detailed instructions.
Relearn valuable lessons
All of this experience taught me some valuable lessons. First and foremost, there are always scammers out there trying to hunt people down. They will use all available means, including social media platforms, to find new victims.
Second, while I know why protecting your personal information is important, this was a firsthand reminder of how easy it is to fall for a scam. You can’t let go of your guard for even a second. This is especially true for anyone who uses marketplaces to sell things online. While these websites are a valuable resource, they are also vulnerable.
Even if you make a stupid mistake like me, it can be corrected. Once you discover that you have fallen for a scam, it is important to act quickly and take additional measures to protect your data. In addition to the steps outlined for the Google Voice scam, I also changed all of my passwords. Also, like a hawk, I scanned all of my accounts for fraudulent activity. So far I’ve apparently been lucky. But you can be sure that I won’t let you do it again.