How scammers use Google Voice verification codes to steal your identity, money

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Have you ever received a text message or a phone call from someone asking you to verify your identity by sending them a code? 

If you have, you may have been targeted by the Google Voice verification code scam. 

This is a sneaky and dangerous scam that allows fraudsters to hijack your phone number and use it to scam other people.

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Woman taking a photo to sell items (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

What is Google Voice?

Google Voice is a free service that lets you make and receive calls, texts and voicemails online. You can use it on your computer, smartphone or tablet. You can also link your Google Voice number to your existing phone number, so you can use both numbers interchangeably. 

Google Voice has many features that make it convenient and useful, such as, voicemail transcription, call forwarding, spam filtering, custom greetings, International calling and Google Assistant integration. However, Google Voice also has a verification process that requires you to enter a code that is sent to your phone number. This is where the scammers come in.

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VOICE verification

Google Voice Verification code (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

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What is the Google Voice verification scam?

The Google Voice Verification Scam is a known scam, according to the FTC, but it’s not as widely known by the general public. Here’s how it works.

First, the scammer contacts you via text, email, or phone, pretending to be interested in buying something from you, hiring you, dating you, or any other plausible reason. They may use a fake name, photo, or profile to lure you in.

Second, the scammer asks you to verify your identity by sending them a code that they claim is from Google, Craigslist, Facebook, or any other platform. They may say that this is for security, verification, or confirmation purposes.

Next, the scammer actually initiates a Google Voice setup process using your phone number. They request a verification code from Google, which is then sent to your phone number via text or call.

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Then, the scammer asks you to forward the code to them, or tell them the code over the phone. In this case, if you forward or tell them the code, they’ll enter it and complete the Google Voice setup. This means that they now have access to your Google Voice account and number, and they can use it to make calls, send or read texts and receive voicemails online. Where this gets tricky is financial institutions often send similar codes to verify transactions, so if the scammer has possession of your Google Voice account, they can potentially approve transactions out of your account. 

Lastly, the scammer can also use your Google Voice number to scam other people, by pretending to be you or someone else. They can also access your personal information, such as your contacts, messages and voicemails, that are linked to your Google Voice account.

voice verification code

Example of Google Voice Verification code text (FTC)

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Isn’t this scam obvious?

You would think, right? But, even the most experienced sellers who have dealt with their fair share of complex scams are all new to those on Facebook Marketplace. The reason the Google Voice verification scam has been so effective is because these scammers use manipulation to accomplish their scam.

By telling you that they need to check whether or not you are trustworthy, it triggers Facebook Marketplace sellers to demonstrate, “Of course I’m trustworthy, and I’m willing to do whatever I can to prove it, especially if this person is interested in buying from me.”

After all, the concept of an online buyer wanting to confirm the sellers — and the products they are buying are legitimate is common practice. But, in Facebook Marketplace, the lack of regulations makes it easy for both sellers and buyers to become victims of scams. Unfortunately, sellers tend not even to give this scam a second thought, until it’s too late.

What to do if you are a victim of the Google Voice scam

If you have fallen victim to the Google Voice verification code scam, don’t panic. There are some steps you can take to reclaim your number and protect your identity. Here is what you should do:

Change your Google account password and enable two-factor authentication on a separate device. It ensures that the scammer, who might have compromised your primary device, cannot interfere with these security measures.This will prevent the scammer from accessing your Google account and any other services that are linked to it, such as Gmail, YouTube, or Google Photos. You should also regularly check your account activity and review your security settings to see if there are any suspicious or unauthorized actions or devices.

Report the scam to the FTC and your local authorities. You can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can also contact your local police department and file a report. Provide as much information as you can about the scam and the scammer, and keep a copy of the report for your records.

Monitor your credit reports and bank statements. The scammer may have obtained your personal or financial information from your Google Voice account or other sources and may try to use it for identity theft or fraud. You should check your credit reports regularly and look for any errors or suspicious activities. You can get a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com. You should also review your bank statements and alert your bank if you notice any unauthorized transactions or charges.

Use identity theft protection: Identity Theft protection companies can monitor personal information like your Home title, Social Security Number, phone number and email address and alert you if it is being used to open an account. They can also assist you in freezing your bank and credit card accounts to prevent further unauthorized use by criminals.

If you want a service that will walk you through every step of the reporting and recovery process, one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from this type of fraud is to subscribe to an identity theft service. See my tips and best picks on how to protect yourself from identity theft.

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How to reclaim your Google Voice number if someone has stolen it

Google Voice works by linking to your actual phone number (though some people opt for a new number altogether). If you go to link your phone number and you see that it’s been claimed (and you have no recollection of ever linking it yourself), that means that someone has your number.

Whether or not they got it because you were a victim of this Google Voice verification scam or maybe another way, they’ve now gotten your Google Voice number. Follow the steps from Google Help to reclaim your number and prevent these hackers from doing more harm.

3 ways to avoid the Google Voice verification code scam

The best way to avoid the Google Voice verification code scam is to be vigilant and cautious online. Here are some tips to help you spot and prevent the scam.

1. Never share your verification code with anyone. The verification code is meant for your eyes only. It is not a proof of identity, nor a confirmation of anything. If someone asks you to send them a code, or tell them a code over the phone, it is a red flag that they are trying to scam you. Google, Craigslist, Facebook or any other legitimate platform will never ask you for your verification code.

2. Do your research and trust your instincts. Before you engage with someone online, do some background checks and verify their identity and credibility. You can use search engines, social media, or reverse phone lookup tools to find out more about them. You can also ask them for references, reviews, or testimonials from previous customers or partners.

3. If something seems too good to be true, or too fishy to be real, it probably is. Trust your gut and walk away from any deal or offer that makes you feel uncomfortable or suspicious.

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Kurt’s key takeaways

The Google Voice verification code scam is a clever and dangerous scam that can cost you your phone number, your Google account and your identity. By being aware of how the scam works, and following the tips above, you can protect yourself and your loved ones from falling prey to this scam.

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