Business imposter scams are on the rise this holiday season

Photo (c) seksan Mongkhonkhamsao - Getty Images

Scammers often pretend to represent a major retailer to steal personal or financial information

The phone call claims to be from Amazon. A computer-generated voice says the recipient’s Amazon account has been charged $1,275 for a Macbook Pro and a pair of AirPods. It provides a prompt to be able to cancel the order.

But hold on -- why does Amazon think the order is fraudulent? Why couldn’t the recipient of the call have ordered a computer and AirPods, as thousands of Amazon customers do each day? The reason is that it isn’t Amazon calling you. The whole thing is a business imposter scam, one of the countless schemes that have sprung up during the holiday season to trap busy shoppers. 

In this case, the fake call from Amazon is designed to panic the victim into providing their real account username and password, resulting in a very real unauthorized purchase sometime in the future. Scammers may also try to gain remote access to a consumer's phone or computer to purportedly help with a refund. 

After getting their hands on the victim’s sensitive personal information, these fraudsters raid bank accounts or make phony purchases—often in the form of untraceable gift cards—in the customer's name.

Phony emails and texts

Scammers are currently sending out emails and texts that claim to come from a store where the intended victim recently shopped. The Better Business Bureau has received reports of scammers sending out fake surveys that appear to come from Walmart, Target, or other major retailers that promise a free gift in return for completing the survey.

According to BeenVerified, this kind of scam is more common than ever. The company analyzed over a quarter million phone spam complaints nationwide in 2021 and found that more than 17% of complaints were related to business imposter scams. 

Online shoppers should always verify the email address or phone number of someone who is contacting them about an online order; you can’t automatically assume the contact information is valid. Never reveal personal information like a Social Security number or credit card information.

According to the analysts at BeenVerified, scammers impersonating employees of Amazon, Apple, CashApp, and others have grown increasingly smarter and bolder, even going so far as claiming that they’re calling from fraud prevention departments. The analysis found that Amazon was the most impersonated company and is being used by scammers nearly 50% of the time. Apple was the second-most used, at nearly 25%.

“As two of the largest online retailers in the United States, Amazon and Apple's seemingly endless customer bases became prime prey for scammers, providing a large and trusting pool of targets,” Kerry Sherin, a spokesperson for BeenVerified, told ConsumerAffairs. “Harnessing the ubiquity and recognition that comes with brand names like these, criminals are able to evade what might normally set off someone's radar and then steal both money and personal information from victims.”

What to do

There are ways to recognize these fake calls, emails, and texts for what they are. In the case of the call from “Amazon,” a quick check of your actual Amazon account should show no such charge is pending.

Consumers can also do a quick Google search to find the support number for any major company or retailer and compare it to the area code and number of the caller. 

If there are links in an email, don’t click on them. Instead, you can just hover the cursor over the links. The text may say “Amazon,” but the actual URL could be a strange combination of numbers or letters.

Finally, keep your wits about you and rely on common sense. A retailer would never need your Social Security number to verify your purchase. If the caller is asking for any personal information, hang up and report the incident to both the retailer and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

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