With many businesses either still shut down or partially shut down due to COVID-19, getting in touch with the customer service department at a company can be challenging. Scammers have figured out a way to capitalize on consumer frustrations.
If consumers want to contact a company’s customer service department, they do a quick online search for a contact phone number or email. But now consumers need to be aware that the information they get online may not be accurate.
Why? Because it appears that scammers have figured out a way to create fake customer service information for popular companies. The Federal Trade Commission has received an uptick in complaints about fake customer service sites. I’ve also received a few phone calls from local readers with this same complaint.
Scammers are even paying for their information to show up at the top of search results. When you use one of these fake numbers, the “rep” will likely offer to resolve the problem if you wire money to them or send gift cards. They will also ask you to verify your personal information or ask for remote access to your computer.
Remember the end game is always the same: It is to get money from you or to get your information.
Here are a few tips to stay safe:
• Check product packaging. If you still have the packaging, manual or printed material from the company this is a good source of real customer service information.
• Visit the company’s official website. Do this by typing in the company’s website address directly into your browser. Look for a phone number, email or chat function, or way to submit a message directly through their website. If you use the search engine to find the company, make sure to double check that the URL is the company’s official site and not the scammer’s site.
• Finally, never wire money or send gift cards. No legitimate company will ask you to send gift cards or wire money. They also will not ask you for your password. If you get asked for this information, hang up because it’s a scammer.
If you spot a fake customer service website, report it to the FTC at www.ftc.gov/complaint.
ONLINE INSTALLMENT WARNING: Now that most consumers are shopping online, shops are targeting high school and college-age buyers just in time for back-to-school purchases. Customers are being offered a buy-now and pay-later purchase option.
This allows shoppers to purchase just about anything by agreeing to pay a series of smaller installments. However, with any financing option, consumers should understand the terms before they sign up.
As you go through the checkout process with an online store, if the store offers installments you will be given the additional option of making your purchase in a specific number of installments. The option to split up payments can be appealing, particularly to younger shoppers who don’t tend to have or use traditional credit cards.
Often, this option comes from a third-party financing company that makes money by charging retailers a small percentage of each sale and by collecting late fees and interest from consumers. Interest rates range from 0% to 30%, depending on credit history and the retailer. You’ll likely need to be approved by the financing company to be eligible for an installment payment plan.
Keep in mind you’re borrowing money. Make sure you’re not spending more than you can actually afford before you make your decision to purchase the item(s). Stick to your budget and don’t sacrifice money set aside for rent. Read the fine print and do research on the financing company.
• • •
SCAM EMAIL ALERT: I along with several readers have been receiving emails from UPS, FedEx, Lowe’s (just to name a few) that have said we’ve been selected to get an exclusive reward. The catch is to qualify, you must first fill out a short survey.
The problem with these emails is they don’t appear to be from the actual company. Often they are from a noReply email that doesn’t have the company name anywhere in the email address.
While the reward or gift may be enticing, I recommend skipping this offer. It’s more likely than not a phishing email wanting you to fill out the survey in order to capture your personal data.
• • •
Remember: I’m on your side.
• • •
If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at email@example.com or call me at 208-274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. I’m a copywriter working with businesses on marketing strategy, a columnist, a veterans advocate and a consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.
Get your CompTIA A+, Network+ White Hat-Hacker, Certified Web Intelligence Analyst and more starting at $35 a month. Click here for more details.