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FBI issues warning about Google Voice authentication scam

If you share your phone number online—and let’s face it, most of us do sooner or later—you run a real risk of being targeted by the slick Google Voice authentication scam, warns the FBI in a recent communication.

What is Google voice?

Google Voice is a service from Google that allows you to set up a new virtual phone number that can be used to make domestic and international calls or send and receive text messages.

How does it work?

This scheme works even if you don’t have a Google Voice account. These scammers target people who have shared their phone numbers through online marketplaces, social media apps and, more recently, lost pet sites and dating apps. Because they don’t ask for personal info or specific account numbers, it might seem very legit, but here’s what’s really happening:

  • The scammer downloads the Google Voice app and links it to a Gmail account
  • They find victims by checking out online marketplaces like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. They also prey on people who post looking for help finding a lost pet
  • The supposedly ‘potential customer’ or lost-pet-finder reaches out to their targets via text messages or email
  • They tell you want to verify that you’re a real person by sending you an authentication code from Google in the form of a voice call or a text message, and then ask you to repeat the number back to them to prove you’re real
  • What they’ve really done is to set up that new Google Voice account in your name, using your phone number as the primary number—and you’ve just assisted them because the authentication code you receive and pass on is none other than the two-step verification code needed to complete the set-up process.

Says the FBI, “"Once set up, the scammer can use that Google Voice account to conduct scams against other victims that won’t be directly traceable to him. He can also use that code to gain access to, and take over, your Gmail account.”

What to do if you're the target of an authentication scam

The good news? If you've fallen victim to this scam Google makes it easy to quickly reclaim your account in a simple, 7-step guide on their website.

The FBI also provides the following tips to avoid getting scammed:

  • Never share a Google verification code with others
  • Use only legitimate payment processors if you’re making an online purchase
  • Don’t give out your email address to buyers/sellers conducting business via phone
  • Don’t let someone rush you into a sale. If they are pressuring you to respond, they are likely trying to manipulate you into acting without thinking

If you think you’ve fallen victim to an online scam, report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or to call your local FBI office.