The dangers of using smart assistants like Siri, Alexa to look up phone numbers

If you ask your smart assistant -- such as Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant -- to look up a phone number and call it, you could be setting yourself up to fall victim to a scam. https://bit.ly/2Q8qcdo Subscribe to WPXI: https://on.wpxi.com/YouTube Connect with WPXI online: https://www.wpxi.com/ Download our FREE apps: https://wpxiapps.com/

If you ask your smart assistant -- such as Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant -- to look up a phone number and call it, you could be setting yourself up to fall victim to a scam.

It's easy and a way many people find phone numbers and information. But asking Siri, Alexa or Google for a phone number now comes with a warning: There's a good chance the person on the other line is a scammer.

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"I don't know what would happen if I placed a call and was rerouted without my knowledge. That would be kind of scary," Bre Evans, of Pittsburgh's Garfield neighborhood, said.

It's happening so often, the Better Business Bureau put out a warning nationwide. It said don't ask your smart device to look up a phone number, because it may accidentally point you to a scam.

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"What is happening? Scammers are purchasing phone numbers and ads and have them placed on the top of search results," BBB Southwestern Pennsylvania spokeswoman Caitlin Driscoll said.

Basically, scammers are paying to make sure their phone number pops up first. Driscoll said they're hitting several industries, including tech companies and airlines.

The bottom line: Look up the number yourself, and then take a few seconds to make sure it's right.

The Better Business Bureau also suggests that people always make payments with credit cards, as it is easier to dispute charges compared to using a debit card or wiring money.

Local man almost fell victim to a scam like this

While preparing for a mission trip to Haiti, Mike Segeleon, of South Fayette, reached out to American Airlines to get help with the equipment they needed to transport. He did a quick search online and found a number for American Airlines with an address at Pittsburgh International Airport and called it.

"We needed to transport 14 large suitcases to Haiti full of equipment to build a water treatment system," said Segeleon. "I told him we already had reservations with American Airlines and he said 'That's great. Can I have your confirmation number?' And we went right into the process and he identified people on the reservation."

But to his surprise, Segeleon said the man told him that four of the six people didn't have confirmed tickets but he could fix that with a credit card.

"That's when I stopped him and told him I wasn't comfortable with this. I don't think this is how the process works," said Segeleon.

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He said the man on the phone responded, "Oh, no it will be very good."

Segeleon said he was concerned and didn't want to proceed.

We here at Channel 11 wanted to know more about what happened, so we did a similar internet search and called the number that came up. A man answered the phone and said he was with another company that could take care of my travel reservations.

The Better Business Bureau recently issued a warning about this and the big takeaway -- scammers aren't just hitting airlines. They're changing phones number for all types of businesses.

"Unfortunately, what is happening, scammers are purchasing phone numbers and ads and have them placed on the top of search results," said BBB Spokesperson, Caitlin Driscoll.

American Airlines told Target 11: "Unfortunately some search engines provide incorrect numbers, which redirect passengers to travel agencies or other organizations not affiliated with American Airlines."

American like the BBB is urging travelers to go to the companies official website for contact information.

"40 years in the IT field, 40 years of helping customers with computers," said Segeleon. "I kind of picked up that something wasn't right."

Segeleon completed his mission trip to Haiti and set up a water purification system. He showed us some pictures and videos from the trip. It was a success and in the process he learned a valuable lesson.

"I'd be very, very careful what you ask for and be careful what you receive," said Segeleon.

Tip from the BBB to avoid scams like these

  • Be careful when searching for support phone numbers. Rather than doing an online search or letting your smart device look up a number, use the contact information on the business's website (double check the URL), on your bill, or in your confirmation email.
  • Beware of fake ads. Scammers make ads with fake customer service numbers. Using voice search to find a number can make it harder to tell a phony listing from the real one. Get your information from the official company website or official correspondence.
  • Make payments with your credit card. It's easier to dispute a credit card payment. Paying by wire transfer or pre-paid debit card is like using cash. There is almost nothing you can do to get the money back.