FTC: Amazon impersonators cost consumers $27 million in 2020-21

Ronell Smith nearly became a victim of a growing trend involving impersonators, phone calls, and the world’s largest retailer, Amazon.

“I will say my initial reaction to that phone call was…panicking,” said Smith of Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania.

Smith recently received a voicemail letting her know of a suspicious charge on her 73-year-old father’s Amazon account. She called the number back and spoke with someone who told her a $300 charge was made using the account.

“At that point, (they) verified the name of the person who lives here, who indeed has this Amazon account,” said Smith. “To make it worse, they were saying it was not only his credit card but his Amazon account. The whole thing had been hacked into. I was very worried. I was thinking, this is not a phone call that we commonly get here.”

Smith says she was told the charge was made with a Visa card in Ohio and to fix this problem she needed to act fast.

But something about the phone call didn’t feel right. Smith said she stopped and checked her dad’s account, found no recent purchases, then remembered her dad didn’t even have a Visa card. That was when Smith knew it was a scam.

“The more hesitancy that I showed with this person on the phone, the more arrogant they got,” Smith said.

The Federal Trade Commission says impersonation scams involving Amazon are the most common and successful. Between July 2020 and June 2021, the FTC said 96,000 people filed complaints involving Amazon impersonators, costing consumers more than $27 million. The next most frequently impersonated company was Apple with about 16,000 complaints, the FTC said.

“We’re talking an incredible amount of money that was lost to this Amazon scam,” said Paula Fleming, Chief Marketing and Sales Officers with the Better Business Bureau.

Fleming said Amazon imposters are thriving simply because more people are shopping online.

“Be very cautious when you’re on the phone with someone who claims to be from Amazon. Hang up, go to Amazon directly, log onto your account,” Fleming said.

The FTC’s website has guidance for consumers on how to spot, stop, and report impersonators. The BBB recommends that people report scams to them so they can alert people on the different variations. You can do that on their Scam Tracker website.

An Amazon spokesperson provided a statement to Boston 25′s sister station, WPXI-Channel 11 in Pittsburgh:

“We take any attempts to misuse our brand seriously. We do not send unsolicited messages asking for sensitive personal information or payment outside of our website, and maintain a webpage to assist customers in identifying a fake email or phone calls, here. Any customer that receives a questionable email, call or text from a person impersonating an Amazon employee should report them to Amazon customer service. Amazon investigates these complaints and uses them to protect customers and hold the bad actors accountable.”

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