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New Amazon Scam Tricks You Into Giving Up Control of Your Computer

Crooks might be trying to take advantage of the busy holiday shopping season.

From marketing emails to tracking info and receipts, it's almost too easy for companies to reach out to customers these days. For the most part, it can be easy to ignore communications that aren't important—especially now that there are so many of them. But criminals have still been able to take advantage of technology to lure people into giving away important information or funds. Now, one resurgent scam making the rounds involves purported Amazon reps trying to trick you into giving up control of your computer. Read on to see how these fraudsters are targeting unsuspecting victims.

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Scams are changing their format to include a mixture of messages and phone calls.

concerned man talking on phone

Scams are the type of crimes that have had to evolve with technology over time. And while phones have long been used as a tool to lure in potential targets, the digital era has only widened the tools available to crooks. The recent trend of receiving strange text messages from random numbers—or even your own—attempts to take advantage of how inundated we are with constant communications on our devices. Now, scammers are beginning to combine email or text messages with phone calls staffed by live operators to pull off their dirty work.

One recent example is known as "callback phishing." Authorities warn that the developing scam targets small companies and individuals by reaching out about an impending subscription or charge and providing a phone number that leads to a sham customer service center. Unfortunately, this type of crime appears to be taking off: According to data from email security company Agari, there was a 625 percent increase in callback phishing activity from the start of 2021 to the second quarter of this year, The Washington Post reported.

But now, a similar type of scam is using a very familiar company to grab victims' attention.

A new Amazon scam attempts to trick people into giving up control of their computers to criminals.

woman looking at text on phone

The modern boom in e-commerce has made it so that we're constantly bombarded with shipping notifications and delivery alerts fairly regularly. So naturally, scammers are now posing as the largest online retailer by running an Amazon scam that ultimately aims to take control of your computer.

In a recent example, TechRadar U.S. editor-in-chief Lance Ulanoff described a run-in with such a fraudster that began with a seemingly simple notification message sent to his phone. The text claimed that his card had just been charged $649 for a mini projector, including an order ID number, purchase date, and phone number to call if the charge was a mistake.

Ulanoff says he was immediately suspicious of the message as they've become a relatively common form of SPAM on our phones. But he was convinced the text came from scammers when he realized that the contact number provided didn't match the number on the caller ID from which the message was sent. He also noticed that the text had a typo that swapped out an "o" for a zero, which is a major red flag in an official communication from a major company.

Knowing a scam was afoot, Ulanoff decided to call the listed number for educational purposes. He was quickly connected to a representative who told him he had placed an order to be delivered to Ohio despite the fact that he lived in New York—even though his Amazon account showed no signs of pending purchases. The scammer then asked him to download a program called AnyDesk, a legitimate remote desktop software that grants access to your computer or phone to other users. Once a victim hands over control, scammers can steal personal information, use logins to transfer funds, or download sensitive documents they can hold for ransom.

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Local law enforcement in some areas have warned of similar Amazon scams.

police officer receiving report on phone / Shutterstock

Partway through his experience, Ulanoff said he took a moment to look into other instances of scammers attempting this type of scam and came across one major warning. He came across a March 1 public alert posted by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office in South Carolina about scammers pretending to be from Amazon to get access to victims' devices.

In this case, fraudsters have instructed users to download the app onto their phones. "The Anydesk Remote app provides the impersonator with access to the victim's mobile telephone, which includes bank and other accounts stored on the device," the authorities explained. "Once access is granted through the Anydesk Remote app, the impersonators have stolen various amounts of money from the victims."

Here's how to avoid falling victim to this Amazon scam.

older man concerned phone call
fizkes / Shutterstock

Ultimately, Ulanoff says he found a clever way to tell the scammer impersonating the Amazon agent he wouldn't be downloading the program. However, he warns that it's essential to stay aware of any unexpected messages from Amazon or other retailers, especially during the busy holiday shopping season.

According to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, it's also vital to never hand over control of your computer or phone to a customer service agent in a situation like this, as "it most certainly will result in fraud." The agency recommends not responding to any scam messages and instead calling Amazon or the retailer directly at their publicly posted customer service number if you have an issue.

If you do get caught up and realize you've fallen victim to an Amazon scam, the agency recommends reporting it to law enforcement immediately.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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