I don’t consider myself a novice when it comes to the internet, yet somehow in my haste to find a phone number, I almost made a catastrophic mistake that could have cost me my reservation and flight home. I had a few hours before my flight, so I decided to call American Airlines to see if I could use airmiles to do an upgrade. I did a quick Google search and saw the ‘American Airlines customer service’ number pop up on top so I clicked on the number and dialed. It sounded like a busy overseas call center, but I just assumed American Airlines had farmed out their customer service because it was during the holidays. The representative asked for my name and confirmation number, which I gave him. He then asked where I was flying and at what time. I paused because these were not typical American Airlines customer service rep questions and I started to get suspicious. Typically an American Airlines Customer Service Rep can see my reservation when I call in from my cell phone, especially when given the confirmation code, and I don’t have to provide all of these details. Red flags were flashing in my brain as I realized I must have called a fake American Airlines number. I quipped, “Nevermind! Thank you, I changed my mind” and hung up. My phone started ringing almost instantly. He was calling back. I ignored the call and he called me several more times. He also left me an aggressive voicemail demanding to speak to me.
I pulled out my phone again and looked at my search. Sure enough, I had called a number from a ‘Sponsored’ Google listing. I felt SO stupid to have fallen for that. However, when you’re in a hurry and on your phone, it’s easy to make mistakes like that. The calls from the fake guy continued for about fifteen minutes. Almost an hour had passed and I had a flash of panic. I had given that guy ALL of my information. He had my name and my confirmation number – the most sacred of information for a traveler. I logged in through my American Airlines App and lo and behold, the fakey dirtbag scammer had moved me to the very back of the plane, next to the toilet. I went from a bulkhead seat to the back on a flight that was filling up.
I obtained the REAL American Airlines customer service number and heard the signature American Airlines tune with a digital voice saying, “Hello, Meg”. Ah, I had the correct number. That tune felt SO comforting at this point! I was patched through to a real rep and I relayed my crazy story. Thankfully I was able to move back to my original seat and the real rep created a ‘safe word’ so my reservation could not be altered again without that keyword! I was so relieved as this could have turned out so much worse. At this point, I didn’t even care about getting an upgrade anymore because the vindictive fakey service guy could have canceled my flight! I also reported the fake number to the real representative and he documented the entire situation.
Since this incident, I have input the real phone numbers to common, yet important businesses such as airlines, banks, and credit cards. As long as Google is going to let people bid on mobile keyword terms such as ‘American Airlines Customer Service’ or ‘Delta Customer Service’, scams and fraud will abound. Sadly the minute one site gets reported, the new one opens up overnight, like little internet cockroaches.
Be aware, take the extra minute to confirm the authenticity of a number before you make a call!
These are not the searches I saw many months ago, but these come up today (at the time of writing this post) as an example of websites that are clearly NOT official airline websites, yet they are pretending to be official sites with the targeted keyword buys.