CHICAGO (CBS) — You probably already know not to answer phishing emails or calls from suspicious phone numbers, but the Morning Insiders wondered what if you’re tricked into calling a scammer?
A mother in suburban Elburn said that’s how she lost thousands, and CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas is asking how that could happen.
Abbey Coffey is a mother of three. Santa got her son a new iPod, but on the day after Christmas his Apple ID wasn’t working.
“The kids were upset that day, and I said, ‘Let me quickly call Apple,’” she said.
Coffey decided to Google “Apple support number.” She said she clicked on one of the top results, and saw a website that looked like Apple’s, with a phone number to call.
“It started exactly like, ‘This is Apple Support, thanks for calling,’” she said
She took a screenshot 50 minutes into a confusing phone call. They said she had to verify her Apple ID with Apple Pay and Apple Cash transactions.
“I questioned it and said, ‘Why?’ and they told me they would send me an amount, I would match it, it would verify my Apple ID, money’s not actually moving,” she said.
They even had her download a screen-sharing app, and she got a phony message saying Apple was depositing the funds.
In the end, they took just shy of $5,000 from her.
The website she used is no longer online. CBS 2 tried calling the number Coffey used, and that wasn’t working either.
If you search the web for the phone number, you’ll find more than a dozen comments on sites like FindWhoCallsYou.com and 800notes.com, all from late December, all from people saying they thought it was Apple support. Several of them said they had searched Google for Apple support, only to encounter the scam.
“I get those phishing emails. You don’t click on the link, because it’s a scam, but I called them. So me calling them, my guard was completely down,” Coffey said.
CBS 2 asked Google to look into it, and after a week of emails and questions, they admitted the scammers managed to buy a few Google ads, which often appear above actual search results. The search engine later removed the ads and suspended the advertiser account.
“The bad guys are on top of this,” said William Kresse, a consumer fraud expert at Governors State University, also known as “Professor Fraud.”
Kresse said Google has gotten better over the years at sniffing out bad actors, but sometimes they still slip through the cracks.
“Google is a for-profit company. They’re trying to generate revenue. So they’ll take in these ads and then edit them out as they find problems; rather than up-front having a prior review before the ads get posted, or at least not a rigorous enough prior review,” he said.
The good news for Coffey is her banks are refunding her money through a provisional credit while they investigate.
When CBS 2 asked how the scammers bought the ads, a Google spokesperson said scammers sometimes use a method called “cloaking,” which means they show different content to different users, including Google, to hide bad stuff.
Google said, in 2018, they took down more than 2 billion ads that violated their policies.
The search engine said they work with law enforcement when they find fraudulent activity, but a spokesperson would not go into specifics on how or if they are working with police in this case.