HOUSTON - If you are looking to sell anything online, watch out for a scam that’s booming right now.
The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) says 49% of the complaints they received last month were about the Google Voice Scam.
Google Voice is a popular, free phone service over the internet. Scammers are hijacking phone numbers to commit more scams using your name.
"Close to half of all the calls coming into the ITRC have been on just this issue," said Eva Velasquez, CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. "It is really exploding and we want people to be aware."
Here’s how it works: You post something for sale on say Facebook Marketplace, Etsy, or Craigslist, or even list a job or a home for rent, and list your Google Voice phone number. Scammers pose as buyers but say they want to make sure you are really the seller. So they have Google send you an authorization code.
"They say ‘read me that number,’ even though it says in the message do not share this code with anyone," explains Velasquez.
From there, they use the code to take over your phone number.
"Then the scammer can associate that phone number of the original person with all of their misdeeds and basically cover their tracks as they go out online and sell fake goods," said Velasquez.
But get this, you don't have to have a Google Voice account to be scammed.
Velasquez says if you have a Gmail account, that means you have a Google Account. That's all they need to set up a Google Voice phone number associated with your account.
But here’s something rare. You can, and should, take your phone number back.
"When you reclaim the number, that simply doesn’t allow the scammer to associate your phone number with their misdeeds," said Velasquez.
Here's how to take it back. Log into your Google Voice account, or set up a new one with a different phone number than the number that was stolen. Then add the stolen number, using a new authentication code. This overrides the hacker's account and puts the phone number back in your control.
To protect yourself, never give an Authentication Code to anyone.
If you're already a victim, contact the ITRC through its website or call (888) 400-5530.