Wrong video conference help line routes to scammers

By: Rachel DePompa, InvestigateTV

Originally Published: May 21, 2020

(InvestigateTV) – Zoom is the new Facebook these days. Everyone seems to be hitting up the video chat service, and the crooks and con artists are trying to take advantage.

Parker Michels-Boyce is all about keeping people connected. He’s a professional photographer in Richmond, Virginia, usually capturing the moments we want to remember. But after COVID-19 hit, like the rest of us, he’s found new ways to keep working and keep in touch: Zoom.

“Lately I’ve been using Zoom for personal and business, staying in touch with some other photographers, and also talking to my family back home in Minnesota and some other states,” Michels-Boyce said.

He was using the video chat platform so much, he decided it was time to upgrade his account so he could have longer meetings.

“My payment wasn’t going through. I tried it a few times, went to the Questions & Answers page online and ended up trying to get in touch with their customer support from a phone number that I saw,” Michels-Boyce said.

The problem is the number he dialed was two digits off from the real zoom customer support number.

Instead of 1-888, he dialed 1-866.

“I was talking to someone who I realized later did not identify himself as a Zoom employee, but pretty quickly apologized for the inconvenience, and said that to make up for it they were offering people a $100 gift card,” Michels-Boyce said.

The person said they were offering gift cards because their systems were down, but there was a catch.

“He asked for my home address, which I gave him, and then said, there’s going to be a $4 shipping fee, can I have your credit card number?” Michels-Boyce said.

That’s when the warning signs started. He tried searching the internet for $100 gift cards from zoom and found nothing.

“Told him, I’m going to have to call you back. He was like, no ask me any questions you have, it’s fine. You can ask me whatever you want. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m definitely going to have to call you back if this is legit,’” Michels-Boyce said.

Investigate TV called the number too. At first, there was an automated message telling that said we were “entitled to a retail rebate of $100 and to press one now for more information.”

After pressing one, the phone rang. There was music playing as it rung, like it was dialing a personal phone.

Finally, it sounded like there was an answer. InvestigateTV kept saying, “Hello?”

Once someone answered, we asked, “Is this Zoom?”

The person answering the fake Zoom number said, “Okay, let me inform you right now, the systems are down because of some technical issues. In the meanwhile, instead of putting you on hold we are offering you a $100 gift card okay?

When asked again if the number was Zoom help, he said, “You have dialed the right number ma’am, but right now the systems are running down so you are having connectivity trouble with our department ”

Ultimately InvestigateTV asked once more, “Zoom help is down?” The person immediately hung up.

That fake number is out there on the internet.

Kids are using Zoom for school, and so are hospitals. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services relaxed HIPAA patient privacy laws, just so doctors can video chat with patients during the pandemic.

InvestigateTV found the fake zoom number mistakenly listed on a hospital’s website in Washington state. We called the hospital and left a message about the issue. The hospital never called back, but six hours later, it had corrected its website.

“These phishing scams are all over the place, and I think we were able to find a couple of websites that had that wrong number listed,” Michels-Boyce said.

Even the FBI was warning about fake tech support scams just two months before the pandemic started.

“You’re online, you’re doing something at work or home and you get a pop up that says, ‘This is Microsoft tech support or Apple tech support. We’ve noticed that there’s a problem with your system, and we’d like you to click here to receive our help.’ Very likely a scam,” said David Johnson, the Supervisory Special Agent at the Richmond FBI office.

Michels-Boyce figured out the scam before giving away his credit card number. He’s sharing his misadventure to save others the same trouble.

“These phishing scams are getting more and more clever. If you’re ever asked for a credit card number and an address and your name, something where you’re giving multiple points of personal information, be really aware of that. Be really wary,” added Michels-Boyce.

Tips to avoid scammers:

  • Steer clear of unsolicited links because malware could end up on your device.
  • Be very careful when dialing a number.
  • Make sure you are using the real website for the company you’ve been searching for online.

InvestigateTV reached out to Zoom to let them know about what is happening and has not yet heard back. InvestigateTV also checked out the real zoom help number. When you call, it clearly tells you that you’ve called Zoom.

Copyright 2020 Gray Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Jamie Grey

Jamie Grey

Jamie is InvestigateTV's managing editor. She coordinates content and produces stories with a particular passion for digging into government programs and waste, health care policy and education.