Ron Kroll just finished buying six or seven gifts online for his grandchildren. So when he got a phone call from Amazon that claimed that he had nearly $800 in charges on his account, well, he kind of panicked.
"It was a recorded message, supposedly from Amazon, stating that there was a pending charge of $799.75," he said.
"This is Amazon calling," he remembers hearing.
Scammers, no doubt, will be working overtime in December to impersonate all sorts of big names, including Amazon, as holiday shoppers order more online to deal with social distancing as COVID-19 cases spike in many communities.
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The holiday season leaves many families juggling so many errands and odd jobs that some consumers end up being more vulnerable to a scam call. If you're busy and overstressed already, you're not always playing at the top of your game.
One automated call that I received this week told me that my Apple iCloud account had been compromised and I shouldn't use it to buy online until I fixed the problem. Press 1, the voice said. I hung up, knowing that scammers will try to capture login information, and might even ask for access to my computer.
But really who isn't worried when they think their card or computer has been compromised?
Kroll, a retired police sergeant from the city of Westland, Michigan, usually doesn't even pick up his cellphone if he doesn't recognize the number. Yet, he was expecting a delivery and thought maybe, this was the call.
The recording advised him that he needed to press 1 now if he did not make those purchases to connect with an Amazon representative.
Fortunately, being flustered worked this time in the consumer's favor.
Kroll, 61, told me that he was on a walk at the time, rushed to punch the No. 1 but ultimately fumbled making the return call immediately because he was wearing gloves and hit the wrong numbers a few times too many on his iPhone.
"Thank God for panic mode sometimes," Kroll told me in a phone interview.
By the time he tried to call the number back, there was no answer.
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He soon went home and called Amazon customer service just to make sure that someone didn't hack into his account. No hackers, just scammers sending out a ton of robocalls to see whether someone will bite.
Kroll doubts he would have verified his credit card account number or handed over personal information anyway but the timing of the robocall did catch him off guard – and he wanted to warn other people about a new twist on an old scam.
Scammers try to scare you into thinking that your bank account or credit card has somehow been compromised – and you must act immediately by handing over more personal information to fix the problem.
One red flag of a scam: The robocall asks you to hit 1 or some other key to continue.
Previous scams have involved situations where the scammers direct potential victims to a phony website that looks exactly like the Amazon website. The target is then asked to reenter personal information, including bank account information.
What you need to do is to hang up.
The Federal Trade Commission also has a new website – ReportFraud.ftc.gov – where consumers can report a scam whether they have lost money or not. As part of this new service, the consumer receives some advice on what to do next when it comes to a particular problem.
I heard from another reader this fall about a similar Amazon scam.
The woman sent an Amazon Prime package in October to a friend. The friend received the package, no problem. A short time afterward, the friend received a landline phone call from someone with a heavy accent announcing they were calling from Amazon Prime.
The caller told her friend that he owed Amazon Prime $799. Fortunately, the friend got flustered but didn't get scammed.
Not everyone will be so fortunate.
“The risk of falling victim to a fraudulent money scheme can increase during the holidays, as scammers aim to take advantage of vulnerable people," said April Schneider, head of Consumer and Small Business Products at Bank of America.
She said consumers should never send money or give out personal information in response to an unexpected request.
TransUnion reported Wednesday that there was a 14% increase in suspected e-commerce fraud during the 2020 Thanksgiving holiday weekend through Cyber Monday, compared with all of 2020. The findings are based on the same-store sales analysis of TransUnion’s e-commerce customers during Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday.
The research shows a very slight decrease in suspected online retail fraud worldwide during the start of the 2020 holiday shopping season compared to the same period in 2019.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating the move from off-line to online transactions, detecting digital fraud attempts has become paramount for e-commerce providers,” Shai Cohen, senior vice president of Global Fraud Solutions at TransUnion, said in a statement.
Scammers know that we're shopping via our smartphones and mobile devices so they try to connect with us on those platforms, too.
TransUnion found that a mobile phone or tablet appeared to be used for 52.51% of all suspected fraudulent e-commerce transactions during the long holiday shopping weekend this year.
Scammers are playing the odds that if they make thousands of robocalls, they'll reach someone who ordered items off Amazon. Or they can reach someone who just had something delivered.
They're not really up to date on all those orders or deliveries. They've just got a hunch – and sometimes a hunch is enough to scam you.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Amazon Prime scam tries to rob you of $800. Here's what to know.