The Google Voice Scam: How Scammers Hijack Your Number

We live in an age of rampant cybercrime, and there are many deceptions, schemes, and scams out there related to technology. But one threat that doesn’t get talked about enough is the Google Voice scam, which is why we’re shedding light on it.

This multi-step scheme targets unsuspecting individuals, leveraging the legitimacy of Google’s free calling and texting service to hijack phone numbers for criminal purposes. And if you want to protect yourself in the digital landscape, you need to understand the mechanics of this scam and its devastating consequences.

How This Scam Works

The Google Voice scam starts with a seemingly innocent point of contact. Scammers often target victims through online marketplaces, classifieds websites, or social media, places where people usually list their phone numbers.

The scammer poses as an interested buyer and builds rapport for a little while, just long enough to establish trust. And as soon as they do, they’ll introduce a supposed problem.

Most of the time, people who are attempting this scam claim they have some issues with receiving calls and texts, and then offer Google Voice as a workaround to finalize the transaction. The scammer then initiates the setup for a new Google Voice number, but they link it to the victim’s existing phone number. Google, as part of the verification process, sends a unique code to the victim’s phone.

The scammer’s goal here is to obtain that verification code so they feign confusion about Google Voice, act as if they’re technically inept, or pretend they aren’t receiving the code, asking the victim to read it aloud. And once they do, the scammer completes the Google Voice setup, successfully hijacking the victim’s phone number.

More Scam Scenarios

Online marketplaces aren’t the only way scammers find victims, some other popular tactics include:

  • The “wrong number” ploy. The scammer deliberately texts or calls you, pretending they’ve accidentally reached the wrong person. They engage in friendly chatter, building trust, before eventually asking for help with their supposed Google Voice “issue”.
  • The “job offer” trick. They pose as a recruiter or employer interested in hiring you, specifically targeting people looking for remote jobs. Later, they’ll claim a “technical requirement” for the job requires you to set up Google Voice with your number.
  • The “tech support” scam. In this scenario, the scammer impersonates a tech support agent from a company such as Apple or Microsoft and claims there is a problem with your account. They’ll say they need to send you a verification code and guide you through setting up Google Voice for “secure communication”.
  • The “overseas buyer” angle. Another popular ploy these scammers like to use is claiming to be from another country or buying from abroad. This supposedly explains why they might have communication difficulties and need to use a different service.

Why Is This Dangerous?

While it may not seem like it at first, the Google Voice number scam can cause significant damage. If a scammer has your phone number, they can do a lot of damage:

  • Identity theft. By impersonating the victim, the scammer can engage in further scams, tricking friends, family, or business contacts into sending money and divulging personal information.
  • Hidden criminal operations. The fake Google Voice number provides an untraceable veil for the scammer’s criminal dealings, including illegal sales, harassment, or other fraudulent activities.
  • Reputation damage. If the scammer does use the number for criminal activities, the victim can be falsely implicated in their actions, and have their phone number associated with potentially damaging or criminal accusations.
  • Targeted account hacking. If you use your phone number for password resets or two-factor authentication, scammers could attempt to hijack other high-value accounts you own. For example, they could reset your email or bank account passwords.
  • Extortion attempts. In less common but more severe instances, scammers might try to extort money from the victim by threatening to release embarrassing information or carry out harmful actions if they don’t pay up. 

How to Protect Yourself

Google Voice is a safe and reliable service when it’s used properly, and just because the scammers found a way to exploit it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. Instead, you need to insert a healthy dose of skepticism and awareness when dealing with this service so you can combat the scammers and protect yourself.

Here’s what you need to remember:

  • Never share verification codes. A good rule of thumb is to treat your verification codes like passwords – you’re the only one who should know them. Never trust anyone who is asking you to read your code out loud. Legitimate companies, including Google, will never ask you to read verification codes over the phone, text, or email. Treat your codes like passwords.
  • Keep your phone number safe. If possible, try not to share your phone number on any kind of public listing. But if you use online sales platforms and need to list a number, you should consider using a dedicated “burner” number.
  • Educate yourself and others. Since scams are constantly evolving, it’s important to stay up-to-date on common scam tactics. Share this knowledge with friends and family, especially those who might be less technologically proficient.

Final Thoughts

Scammers are relentless and no one is immune to their ever-evolving tactics. Even if you’re familiar with older versions of the Google Voice scam, new variations will crop up. Staying informed and focusing on the underlying principles of the scam is key.

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