Beware of customer service scams

Use caution when using search engines to contact retailers.

Have you ever purchased an item that was faulty or missing a part? Or maybe you purchased an item and misplaced the user’s guide or manual? These unfortunate issues happen, and when they do, consumers want to speak directly to a customer service representative. So where can you look for this important phone number? You could check your receipt or look on the retailers’ website. If this is unsuccessful, many consumers would attempt to use an online search engine to find the company’s contact information. However, the Federal Trade Commission warns consumers to be cautious of “toll-free numbers” that pop up in search engines. 

So what should consumers be worried about? These toll-free numbers may not be legitimate and may in fact be scammers trying to get your credit card number or install malware on your computer. These scammers use a variety of tactics to try and gain consumer trust and access, for example:

  • They may use company names that are similar to national retailer chains.
  • They may use URLs that are very similar to national retailer chains.
  • They may claim that there is a security problem on your computer that they will fix for a fee.

(Tip: To learn about other tech support scams visit the Federal Trade Commission). 

What can consumers do to protect themselves? Consider the following tips:

  • Use the “official website” for the company you are trying to reach. This is often noted in your search engine list and may also be listed on your receipt. However, keep in mind that not every company has a toll-free customer service number on their website. Some will have a contact us or how can we help link.
  • Customer service strategies are changing so be prepared. Some companies may only use email or an online chat option. While others may request that consumers enter their phone number to receive a return call, from the next available operator. 
  • Note that on some search engines, the top section or side panels are set aside for paid advertisers. So don’t assume that phone numbers listed early in your search list are in fact legitimate. 

For additional information including how to file a complaint again a fake customer service number, visit the Federal Trade Commission

Michigan State University Extension offers financial literacy and homeownership workshops throughout the year to help you become financially healthy. For more information of classes in your area, please visit either the MSU Extension events page or MI Money Health website. Additionally, you can take the Financial Health Survey at MI Money Health to access if you’re financially healthy and discover more ways you can improve your financial health. 

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