by Jenny Smedra
Well, it finally happened. As embarrassed as I am to admit this, I fell victim to a scam. I have worked with several websites and preached the importance of online security for years. But, even the most cautious people leave themselves vulnerable at times. It just goes to show that even those who are well aware of the dangers of internet fraud can let down their guard and fall for a scam.
How it Happened…
In an effort to start decluttering, my dad and I have spent the last few weeks sorting through junk and taking pictures of things to sell. Recently, I posted a few items on Craigslist and other online marketplaces. After a few successful sales, my dad seems even more motivated to continue posting new items. This has been a huge step for him; however, he gets overwhelmed by the sheer amount still left to do. So, I agreed to help manage the listings and respond to potential buyers.
Since I used my dad’s contact information to set up the accounts, I was unable to use the official messaging apps through the platforms. So, I made my phone number available to help him manage the call volume. While I know this can be risky, I also knew it would be much easier to directly communicate with people myself. I also figured that I had enough common sense and knew how to protect my personal information. Unfortunately, my over-confidence was my first mistake.
Last week, I received a text from someone who was interested in my post advertising kids’ bikes for sale. The person said they would be willing to pay cash. But first, they wanted to make sure I was a real person and not a bot. In reality, the scammer was reeling me in with a plausible story. Since I was multi-tasking several projects and eager to sell some of the bigger items occupying space in our garage, I didn’t think twice about it. I was so focused on making the sale that I didn’t recognize the tell-tale signs.
The Google Voice Scam
What I didn’t realize was that I was about to fall victim to a scam. This particular scam involves international fraudsters who use Google Voice verification codes to get a US-based number. Once they have the number, they can use it for other illicit activities or phone scams.
The way it works is that they find your number online. The most common source is through sites like Craigslist. However, scammers could obtain it anywhere that you made it publicly accessible. Once they have your number, then they contact you via text or email. My scammer posed as a potential buyer who was skeptical of online postings. So, they asked for a Google verification code before calling to prove it was real. Instead of recognizing the hook, I simply thought it was someone who was trying to be cautious. Since I am usually very cautious myself when talking to people in online forums, this seemed like a wise safety precaution.
I responded that I was, in fact, a real person. I even offered to call them myself. The scammer replied that they used a calling service that only allowed outbound calls and required a six-digit code for verification. While this should have been my second red flag, I have used similar services myself while living abroad. So, I naively played right into their hands.
Essentially, I provided all the information they needed to set up a new Google Voice account with my cell phone. Once they entered my number, I received an automated response containing the code. Even though it came with an explicit warning NOT to share it with anyone, I only skimmed the message for the code. The fact that it was in Spanish was the third sign that I was about to fall for a scam.
Once I sent the verification code, Google issued the number to the scammer with my personal line as the forwarding number on the account. However, the scammer tried to double down at this point. They replied that my number wasn’t eligible to receive codes. So, they asked for an additional number to resend the code. In truth, they were fishing for a second number to set up another Google Voice account. About 30 seconds after this response, I reread the original message and realized what I had done.
Damage Control After You Fall for a Scam
Feeling a little sick to my stomach and extremely foolish, I knew I had to act fast. Instead of panicking or beating myself up for making a mistake, I began searching for solutions. I wanted to do damage control before the scammers had the opportunity to use my information or take advantage of my stupidity.
After a quick search, I found several discussion threads of people who had done exactly what I had. I also discovered the details of the scam and how to fix it. Luckily, it seemed like a fairly easy fix and less severe than other scams people fall victim to. However, they also stressed the importance of correcting it as soon as possible. Even though most scammers are only after the US phone number, they could potentially have access to my Google account and any information linked to it.
In my case, all I needed to do was reclaim my number from the Google Voice account they set up. If you already have one, you simply add your number to your existing account. Otherwise, you can create a new one and then add the scammed number as the forwarding number on the new account. Within just a few minutes, I was able to get ahead of the scam by following these easy detailed instructions.
Relearning Valuable Lessons
This whole experience re-taught me a few valuable lessons. First and foremost, there are always scammers out there seeking to prey on people. They will use any means available, including social media platforms, to find new victims.
Second, even though I know why it is important to protect your personal information, this was a first-hand reminder of just how easy it is to fall for a scam. You can’t let your guard down for even a second. This is especially true for anyone using marketplaces to sell things online. Although these sites are a valuable resource, they also leave you vulnerable.
Lastly, even if you make a foolish mistake like me, they can be corrected. Once you realize that you fell for a scam, it is crucial to act quickly and take extra steps to protect your information. In addition the steps outlined for the Google Voice scam, I also changed all my passwords. Furthermore, I have been watching all my accounts like a hawk for any fraudulent activity. So far, it seems like I got lucky. But you can be certain I won’t let it happen again.
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Jenny Smedra is an avid world traveler, ESL teacher, former archaeologist, and freelance writer. Choosing a life abroad had strengthened her commitment to finding ways to bring people together across language and cultural barriers. While most of her time is dedicated to either working with children, she also enjoys good friends, good food, and new adventures.