Amazon scammers are becoming oddly specific

August 26, 2020  |  Bob Covello

This blog was written by an independent guest blogger.

A friend contacted me the other day about a scam call purporting to come from Amazon’s customer support department.  She wasn’t home at the time, so the scammer left a message stating that a charge of $749 appeared on her account.  Of course, she didn’t actually order anything for that price, and, although she suspected it was a scam, something about it caught her attention, so she called the phone number displayed on her caller I.D. 

In the old scam days, calling the number on the caller I.D. would have connected her to the scammers, however, when she called, it connected her to the real Amazon customer service center.  The Amazon representative explained that the call she received was definitely a scam, however, he too was mystified that the caller I.D. was for the real Amazon customer service line, rather than to the scammers.  He also told her that Amazon does not call customers; they communicate via the registered E-Mail address on the account.

When she called me to ask about it, she wanted to know what may have been the reason for all this.  My guess is that the scammers want to remain untraceable, so rather than leave a number to connect back to them, they mask their number, hoping that they get a live person on the line, and the true customer service number is just a crafty way of adding legitimacy to the scam in case the scammers call back later. 

The original message was the standard lingua-scamma, asking a person to “press 1 to be connected to a (fake) customer service representative”.  If she was home at the time, and she pressed 1 on her phone, the scam would have launched into the usual social engineering attack.

I asked her what compelled her to call, failing to immediately recognize that it was a scam? She said that it was the “oddly specific $749 amount on their call.  Why not $700, or $750, or some other round number?”  Again, I can only speculate, but it reminded me of a negotiating technique that I first learned about in Chris Voss’ compelling book “Never Split The Difference”. 

In the book, Mr. Voss explains that a person will respond better to an odd number than a nice, round number, as it gives the illusion that the number was carefully calculated.  For example, we all know that when we purchase something at $1.99, or $4.99, it gives us a different sense of the price than if that number increases by a penny.  Likewise, when selling a house, if you want $500,000, a realtor will advise you to price it a $499,000, as buyers will set their search range ending at $500,000, thus eliminating your house from consideration for that final $1,000 price point.

These little tactics seem obvious when carefully thought through, but in the heat of the moment, such as the possibility that your Amazon account was charged $749, our calculating mind fails us. The oddly specific number grabs our attention, albeit in a negative way that has a greater potential of forcing us to engage with the scammer. 

Have the scammers become more adept at psychology to realize the effectiveness of this ploy, or was it just lucky?  Have they studied the fast and slow thinking systems made famous by Daniel Kahneman?  One can only wonder.

How can you protect yourself from these scams?  I advised my friend that, aside from using a good password with a password manager, she should set up multi-factor authentication on her Amazon account.  By taking these simple steps, we can all be sure that our account is safe from any unwanted charges, and we can just ignore those scam phone calls.

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Tags: scams, mfa

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