En español | Impostors posing as online retailer Amazon have been bombarding U.S. consumers with up to 150 million robocalls a month, warns YouMail Inc., an Irvine, California-based firm that tracks scam calls and offers robocall-blocking apps. The calls skyrocketed during the three-month period ending in April, the company says.
Perhaps you've gotten one of the nuisance calls. An alert purports there has been a suspicious charge on your account — say, for $1,499 — and suggests what steps to take next. These steps invariably spell trouble, so it's best to hang up. If you are concerned, contact the megaretailer.
Prior to the recent spike, robocalls that were supposedly from Amazon totaled about 10 million to 30 million per month, says YouMail CEO Alex Quilici. To put the figures in perspective, U.S. consumers now receive an estimated 4.5 billion to 5 billion robocalls a month, he notes.
Amazon impostors are preying on people's trust in its brand, Quilici says. Other big companies, such as Costco, also are prime targets for impostors, so be wary of a call claiming to be from a megaretailer.
"Amazon's a great target because they're almost universal,” Quilici says. “Very few people don't do some ordering from Amazon. For them to get a call from Amazon or a fraud alert doesn't seem that unusual. People just think, Oh, this is Amazon trying to help me out.” Quilici's firm is not alone in observing a huge rise in Amazon scams.
AARP helpline confirms rise
This year, Amazon scams originating from robocalls, texts and emails have been among the top five complaints to AARP's Fraud Watch Network helpline (877-908-3360 toll-free). “Consumer reliance on delivery services such as Amazon during the pandemic has created an environment where Amazon-related scams are now almost as prevalent as some government impostor scams,” says Mark Fetterhoff, a helpline official.
The Amazon-scam robocalls tend to start with someone saying there has been suspicious activity on your account, and then he asks you to press 1 or call another phone number. Next, the scammer may ask for your Amazon account information. Or he may ask to help you by taking over control of your computer via software that lets him gain access to your credit card, banking and other sensitive information — so he can steal your identity and your money.
When call volume soars like this, it suggests the scams are working, Quilici says. “It becomes a trend, and criminals are like everybody else: They'll jump on the latest trend.”
One tip-off to a scamming robocall is the use of incorrect grammar or stilted wording, because the calls often don't originate from countries with native English speakers, he adds.
Amazon acknowledges problem
"These bad actors are misusing our brand to deceive the public, and we will hold them accountable,” Kathryn Sheehan, Amazon's vice president of business conduct and ethics, said in a statement urging consumers to be vigilant “no matter where they shop."
Amazon just sued some marketers who were allegedly sending fraudulent text messages, pretending to be the company, to drive traffic to online sites selling products and services not related to Amazon. These scammers, who promise rewards for filling out fake surveys, are paid fees for driving traffic to certain merchants.
Another tip from Amazon: While some of its departments call customers, the retailer will never ask you to disclose or verify sensitive personal information or offer a refund that you do not expect. Amazon suggests protecting your online account with a two-step verification system.
The best advice, says Quilici of YouMail, is not to trust that any incoming calls are coming from the number showing on your caller ID. If you aren't sure, hang up and log on to your account to find the company's customer service number, he adds.
- Do not respond to any incoming robocalls claiming to be from Amazon or another trusted brand. And don't follow instructions to press 1 or call another number.
- Be suspicious of robocalls or other communications with bad grammar or stilted language.
- If you have concerns about your Amazon account, hang up on the robocall and log in to your Amazon and relevant credit card account to check for suspicious charges.
- Consider a call blocker.
- First, try a free solution from firms such as YouMail and Nomorobo. YouMail also offers services for a fee; Nomorobo is free for landlines and $1.99 a month for cellphones. Your mobile carrier offers free tools, too.
Kathryn Masterson is a writer who previously worked for the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune. Her byline also has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer and Washington City Paper.