Fraud Alert: Phone Scams Involving Amazon Impersonators Are Skyrocketing
Last updated December 9, 2021
Telephone fraudsters often pretend to be someone else to grab your attention and steal your money. They might claim to be with a government agency or program—Social Security, Medicare, IRS—or a trusted company—such as Visa, Mastercard, Apple, Amazon, or a large national bank.
Scammers impersonate all sorts of businesses, but Amazon is “a runaway favorite” according to a report from the Federal Trade Commission. Between July 2020 and June 2021, the FTC received about 96,000 complaints about Amazon imposter scams, up more than fivefold from the year before. To put that into perspective, the FTC received about 16,000 reports regarding Apple, the second most impersonated company.
Reported losses to bogus Amazon calls topped $27 million during that one-year period. The median loss was about $1,000.
Amazon impersonation scams seem to disproportionately target older adults, according to the FTC’s complaint database. Over the past year, people aged 60 and older were more than four times more likely than younger people to report losing money to an Amazon impersonator—and the median loss reported was $1,500, compared to $814 for those younger than 60.
“Scammers like to impersonate Amazon because, unless you're living on Mars, everybody knows the name, and it's a way to get you to let your guard down,” said Adam Levin, host of the What the Hack podcast. “The pitch varies, but the caller usually says there's been suspicious activity or unauthorized purchases on your account.”
Here are two examples of these scam calls provided to AARP from Nomorobo, the robocall blocking service. Listen to: Amazon Purchase Alert, or Amazon iPhone 11 Purchase Alert.
If you get a call like this, hang up immediately. Do not respond in any way and do not call the callback number provided. It’s tempting to believe that there’s a problem with your Amazon account that you want to deal with right away. The crooks are counting on that.
As Amazon clearly states on its website: “While some departments at Amazon will make outbound calls to customers, Amazon will never ask you to disclose or verify sensitive personal information, or offer you a refund you do not expect.”
Anatomy of This Clever Con
People who answer the call or call back the number left in the message will speak to a phony Amazon representative who will try to trick them into providing their account information, or pressure them to allow remote access to their computer or smartphone to supposedly “facilitate” a refund.
Once the imposter has control of the device, they can access your online bank account and make it look like they accidentally refunded too much money. Then, they ask you to return the difference. Some victims report that the phony representative begged for help, saying Amazon would fire them if the extra money was not returned.
Those who fall for this con wind up giving their money to the crooks with no way to get it back.
The only time you should need to provide remote access to your computer or smartphone is when you need technical support on that device. And you need to be the one who initiates the process by contacting a reputable IT support company you know and trust via a website or phone number you are sure is legitimate. If someone asks for remote access to provide you with a refund, it’s a scam.
“Just like you wouldn’t allow a stranger who calls you on the phone into your house, you shouldn’t allow them to access your computer,” said John Breyault, who runs the National Consumers League’s Fraud.org website. “Once they take control of your computer, a criminal can do a lot of damage, from stealing files to installing malware that tracks everything you do.”
In another variation of this scam, the imposters instruct their victims to buy gift cards and to send pictures of the numbers off the back. The fraudsters claim these “blocking codes” or “security codes” will let then block the fictional hackers who supposedly took over your Amazon account. Using these account numbers, the phone bandits can steal all the money loaded on the card.
As the FTC blog post on gift card scams explains:
- No real business or government agency will ever insist you pay them with a gift card. Anyone who demands to be paid with a gift card is a scammer.
- Never send pictures of gift cards. If someone tells you they need the numbers on the back of a gift card, it’s a scam.
If you’re contacted out of the blue by someone claiming there’s a problem with your Amazon account, credit card, Social Security account, Medicare plan, or any other account that needs to be solved right away, and it involves giving them personal information or account numbers, or paying right away via credit/debit card or going to the store to buy gift cards, you’re talking to a scammer.
If you’re worried there might be a problem with your account, contact the company or government agency directly, using the web address or phone number you’ve used in the past and know you can trust. Don’t call any number or log onto any website provided by the caller. It could be part of the scam.
If you’ve fallen for an imposter scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission, and warn friends and family about it.
- FTC: Spotlight on scammers impersonating Amazon: How businesses can reduce injury to consumer
- Fraud.org: Social Security imposter scam on the rise
Contributing editor Herb Weisbaum (“The ConsumerMan”) is an Emmy award-winning broadcaster and one of America's top consumer experts. He is also the consumer reporter for KOMO radio in Seattle. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at ConsumerMan.com.