Consumer warning: ‘smart’ searches could lead to scam websites

Consumer

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Consumer watchdog groups including the Better Business Bureau are sounding the alarm about a new scam involving smart personal assistants, such as Siri and Alexa, warning users the next time you do a voice search, you could end up doing business with a scammer.

Siri, Alexa, Google Home; they are all voice-activated digital assistants that are pre-programmed using an algorithm and search engine to get the answers you are looking for.

But beware, says Michael McCartney, president of Avalon Cyber, because the more you use these devices, the more your privacy gets compromised.

“It is all being sold or shared, through their user agreements to other vendors and other providers that now have a name and a phone number to either send unsolicited email or unsolicited phone calls, robocalls.”

McCartney said as the smart technology gets more sophisticated, the crooks are also getting wise and buying ads on search engines to put their fake websites at or near the top of a web search, raising the odds your smart device will turn to the bogus business or website first.

The Better Business Bureau has issued a nationwide consumer alert, warning of the new smart search scams. Melanie McGovern, a spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York, said the crooks are after your money or sensitive personal information.

“They are buying ads on Google, or any of the search engines, with their phone number. You are calling there, they are answering it, and you think you are ordering dinner, and you are giving them your credit card information.”

McGovern said the Better Business Bureau has found the scammers often pose as customer service representatives, and ask for payment, credit card information, or remote control of your computer or connected device.

“Claim they are the service you are calling. They take your order, they take your credit card information, and then hours later you don’t have any dinner, you see suspicious activity on your credit cards.”

The BBB recommends you double-check a business or website, on your own, before going there, and McCartney added to be on the safe side, you can tighten the privacy settings on your smart device app to keep the device from gathering too much of your personal information.

“Every one of those apps, whether it be Echo, whether it be Siri, whether it be Google Home, they all have a way to get into the app, and go to the privacy settings and configure that to basically turn off the microphone.”

A number of publications report there are millions of fake websites lurking on the internet, while search engines, such as Google and Google Maps have been kicking them out by the millions.

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