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Searching For 'Facebook Customer Service' Can Lead To A Scam

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Searching For 'Facebook Customer Service' Can Lead To A Scam

The Industry

Searching For 'Facebook Customer Service' Can Lead To A Scam

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's something that Americans experience quite often - they get kicked off of Facebook. They don't know why. They try to ask the company for help and can't get it. NPR's Aarti Shahani has been talking with people in that situation.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: I've been speaking with Facebook users who rely on the platform to make their living. Their stories, which we'll share later today, made me start to wonder if I needed to reach the company, what would I do? Facebook pays NPR and other news organizations to produce live videos, we have a direct relationship. But if I were just a regular user, I'd Google Facebook customer service. I tried that, and I got this number - 844-735-4595. Do not call it.

STEVEN: Thanks for calling Facebook. This is Steven (ph), how can I help you?

SHAHANI: You will get someone real, just not from Facebook. This is a recording of a phone call made by the company Pindrop which specializes in phone fraud. The first time I called the toll-free number, someone picked up and then put the phone down, maybe on a table. I could hear mumbling in the room. It felt suspicious, so I asked Pindrop to look into it. A Pindrop researcher, who has to remain anonymous for his work, decided to record as he pretended to be a Facebook user in distress.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Actually I'm having trouble with my Facebook account.

SHAHANI: He says he needs help logging in. Steven, who according to Pindrop analysis is based in India, tells him to go to a Wal-Mart or a Target.

STEVEN: Just walk over there and tell them to provide you an iTunes card, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: OK.

STEVEN: And on the backside of that iTunes card there will be a 16-digit security code.

SHAHANI: Keep listening.

STEVEN: And you need to call us back on the same number and provide me that 16-digit security code so that I can activate that access and we'll be giving you the password for your new - for your old account.

SHAHANI: This is a scam. The top Google search result for Facebook customer service led to a man asking Facebook account holders to buy iTunes gift cards and hand over the codes. Apple and federal regulators have issued warnings about this kind of scam. And that toll-free number was not just on Google, it and others have been circulating on Facebook on pages where people are asking for help for at least a year.

MARTY WEINTRAUB: Wow. Wow. Wow. That's crazy.

SHAHANI: That's Marty Weintraub with Aimclear marketing. He wrote a leading industry book on Facebook advertising long before the rest of the world realized the company would dominate the internet economy.

WEINTRAUB: This is an astonishing result.

SHAHANI: Weintraub also wrote a book on how to manipulate search results to get your brand or product up on top. He knows that companies monitor their search results to see what their customers want, and that criminals and competitors try to exploit brands. These are standard practices. What Weintraub finds astonishing is that a term as basic as Facebook customer service slipped through the company's cracks.

WEINTRAUB: Well, it's not like somebody searching for, hey, what color are Mark Zuckerberg's socks? It's not like it's something that's off the beaten path, so one would think that a company as large as Facebook would be monitoring search engine results page for major queries surrounding their services.

SHAHANI: According to Google data, Facebook customer service gets searched on average 27,000 times a month in the U.S. Weintraub says that is sizable, Facebook should have known about it almost the first minute it came up and should have guarded its users.

WEINTRAUB: These are people who are looking for help with the product and they're getting scammed? O-M-G.

SHAHANI: NPR informed Facebook and Google about the scam line. Facebook says it's been investigating the group associated with this toll-free number for some time, that this group is targeting many platforms, and it's up to Google to explain why it displays certain search results. A Google spokesperson said in a statement that the company has taken steps to remove the fraudulent number. Neither company explained how the prominent search result went unnoticed, and to be clear, Facebook does not have a phone number for regular users to call.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOARDS OF CANADA SONG, "PEACOCK TAIL")

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That was NPR's Aarti Shahani. In the process of reporting, Aarti decided to start a page on Facebook for people to share concerns they can't deliver directly to the company. The page is called TellZuck. That's facebook.com/tellzuck. We'll link to it at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOARDS OF CANADA SONG, "PEACOCK TAIL")

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