When selling items online through Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, you need to be aware of this common scam. In this case, scammers are attempting to hijack your personal cell phone number and link it to their Google Voice account so that they can make calls from a USA-based number. This scam is complex because the actors hijack real people’s phone numbers and use them to make phone calls to scam other people, most likely in the area code of the hijacked phone number. Taking this localized approach allows them to get a higher pick-up rate on their phone calls.
Here’s How It Works
You put your personal phone number out on the internet somewhere, on Craiglist post, Facebook Marketplace post, or a dating website, or anywhere. Someone reaches out to you via text or email about the item that is for sale. They might tell you some strange story detailing how they need you to prove you are a real person or a legitimate seller, not a bot. They want to make sure that YOU don’t scam THEM! They will then proceed to tell you about a special phone service that requires that you give them the six-digit PIN number that you will receive from Google in the form of an automated call or text message. It seems legit, right?
The person is, in reality, a scammer, and they are attempting to hijack your cell phone number and connect it to their Google Voice account. As part of the verification process, Google Voice will call or text your personal number with a code along with a warning not to share the code with ANYONE. Somehow, many people choose to ignore that obvious warning and send the access code to the scammer. After this occurs, the scammers are authorized to use your phone number on their Google Voice account. Now, they will be able to make phone calls with a nice, fresh number that spam blockers won’t catch.
You must add your phone number to your own Google Voice account. This will remove your number from the scammer’s account.
Detailed instructions are below.
First step, you need to create a new Google Voice account and add your own personal phone number to it as a forwarding phone number.
In many cases, the scammer has already removed your forwarding phone number from their account. Their goal is not to forward calls to your personal phone number, but merely to use it as an “admission ticket” to get their own Google Voice number, use it to scam others, get rid of that number, and then rinse and repeat the scam over and over.
Go to https://voice.google.com/ click the “Get a Voice number” button. Now, follow the instructions to get your very own Google Voice number. When asked for a forwarding phone number, don’t enter the number that the scammer stole. Instead, enter some other phone number, at which you can receive one verification call from Google. It can be any home or office or mobile number, as long as it is not a VOIP number. Also, make sure that the number has not been used on a Google Voice account before. You can ask friends or family for help here.
You can remove this number later after you recover your stolen number. This time, do answer the verification call and then enter the six digit verification code from Google. Never do this under any circumstances, other than when you initiate this procedure yourself.
After you’ve completed the account setup, go to this page: https://voice.google.com/settings. Click the blue circle with the + sign in it to link another number. Now, enter your phone number as the forwarding phone you wish to add. Process for reclaiming the number hasn’t been used repeatedly in the past, you will get a warning that the number is currently in use on another account (duh!), and would you like to reclaim it. Respond yes, of course.
This will remove the number from the scammer’s account. Note: if you do not get a warning that your number is in use, this simply means that the scammer had already removed it from their account, and you now have nothing to worry about.
Understand: your own security has not been compromised; this scam only leveraged your personal phone number as a vehicle for the scammer to get a phone number with a local area code. Please be cautious of this common scam when interacting with strangers on online sites, especially Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. A good rule of thumb is to never, EVER share verification codes with anyone who you don’t know!
Co-founder Custom Design Partners
Alexander Hatala is the co-Founder at Custom Design Partners. He specializes in e-Commerce operations, performance marketing strategies, and behavioral analytics.