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Google Voice scam enables criminals to spoof your phone number

Consumer advocates warn the scam is claiming thousands of victims

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Photo (c) Artur - Getty Images
If you sell items on Facebook Marketplace or any of the many other online platforms, consumer advocates warn you could be the target of the Google Voice scam.

The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) reported nearly 4,000 complaints about the scam in 2021, even reporting a preliminary increase this year. It’s gotten the attention of both federal and state officials.

A scammer may see your post and contact you, saying they want to make a purchase, but aren’t quite sure. They want to make sure you’re a legitimate seller.

The scammer will propose the target send a Google verification code to prove legitimacy. The scammer will then use the code to set up a Google Voice number linked to the victim’s phone. A Google Voice number is an online phone number that must be linked to an existing phone number to be created.

Spoofing made easy

What’s happened is the scammer has found a cheap and easy way to spoof a telephone number so that calls can’t be traced back to them. Scammers who successfully create a fraudulent Google Voice number can be difficult to expose since all paths will lead back to the victim’s primary phone number, not the scammer’s.

So, what’s the harm? In the best of circumstances, the scammer might use your number to rip off other people and conceal their identity. It’s possible you might have some explaining to do if law enforcement gets involved.

But Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody says the stakes can be higher, especially if the criminal uncovers additional information about the victim, which is often available on the internet.

‘Additional schemes’

“If the scammer accesses the code and is able to set up a Google Voice account in a victim’s name, they may execute additional schemes that can cause great harm to the original target and potentially many other unsuspecting consumers,” Moody said. 

If scammers get enough information about you, they could pretend to be you to access your accounts or open new accounts in your name. Besides potentially breaking into existing accounts, scammers who hijack your number could get access to Google’s two-factor authentication codes linked to the victim’s phone number.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says there’s an easy way to avoid this scam. 

“No matter what the story is, don’t share your Google Voice verification code — or any verification code — with someone, if you didn’t contact them first,” the agency said in a recent consumer advisory. “That’s a scam, every time.”

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