Local woman almost falls victim to Amazon scam; what you need to know so it doesn’t happen to you

MT. PLEASANT, Pa. — A Westmoreland County woman says she got a call that left her shaking and almost a victim involving the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon.

“I will say my initial reaction to that phone call was, I was panicking,” said Ronell Smith of Mt. Pleasant.

Many of us tend to shop online for convenience and scammers know this. In fact, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) says they’ve seen an uptick locally in complaints. But there are things you can do to keep your account from being compromised.

Ronell Smith occasionally shops online at Amazon, just like millions of others across the country, including her 73-year-old father whom she lives with. “I have noticed there are items that you cannot get many places other than there. I would describe myself personally as someone on the old-fashioned side, but I try to keep up with technology as best as I can.”

So, when a voicemail was left on her family’s phone saying there was a suspicious charge made on her dad’s Amazon account, she got concerned. She called the number back and spoke with an actual person who told her a $300 charge was made using the account.

“At that point, (they) verified the name of the person who lives here, who indeed has this Amazon.com account,” said Smith. “To make it worse, they were saying it was not only his credit card, but his Amazon account. The whole thing had been hacked into. I was very worried. I was thinking, this is not a phone call that we commonly get here.”

Smith says she was told the charge was made with a Visa card in Ohio and to fix this problem she needed to act fast. “The more hesitancy that I showed with this person on the phone. The more arrogant they got. ‘We have to remote into your computer in order to correct your problem,’” she said.

That was when a red flag went up for Smith. She stopped and checked her dad’s account. She found no recent purchases, then remembered her dad doesn’t even have a Visa credit card. She then realized it was a scam.

The Better Business Bureau says these types of scams are on the rise locally and nationally with $27 million lost from victims. “The Federal Trade Commission actually did a recent study on Amazon impersonation because it’s becoming such a big issue,” said BBB Western Pennsylvania Public Relations Director, Caitlin Driscoll. “They indicated that over 96,000 people have been targeted by these different scam variations just in the past year.”

Scammers are targeting people using phone calls, like what Smith received, as well as texts, social media messages or emails that look like they come from Amazon.

“It’s always best, type the website address directly into your browser rather than clicking on a link,” said Driscoll. “Just always keep an eye out for different variations, even if it’s someone you have an account with.”

The BBB recommends that people report scams to them so they can alert people on the different variations. You can do that on their Scam Tracker website: https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker

Channel 11 reached out to Amazon about these impersonation scams and the company spokesperson sent us the following statement:

“We take any attempts to misuse our brand seriously. We do not send unsolicited messages asking for sensitive personal information or payment outside of our website, and maintain a webpage to assist customers in identifying a fake email or phone calls, here. Any customer that receives a questionable email, call or text from a person impersonating an Amazon employee should report them to Amazon customer service. Amazon investigates these complaints and uses them to protect customers and hold the bad actors accountable.”

But how do you know if your account is really compromised; what would happen?

Amazon says their system would flag the account, then notify you with an automated email. But inside that email, it would require you to open another browser to log into your account and follow the prompts listed. Amazon recommends the best way to secure your account is to use two-step verification and “the secure your account” feature, which monitors sign-in attempts and allows you to deny access.

>>>AMAZON TIPS FOR SCAMS<<<

This experience reminded Smith that everyone can be a target, “Please hesitate on urgency. Don’t panic until you know it’s legit. No one deserves to have that kind of anxiety brought onto them by a complete stranger.”

Amazon encourages people to report suspicious emails and inform them by email using stop-spoofing@amazon.com. If it’s a call, report it to the FTC by using this link: https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/