Calling Customer Service? A New Scam is in Town

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on December 7, 2011

During a recent experience to forget with WalMart.com and its customer (dis)service department, I happened upon something likely to be quite interesting to both American Express and anyone using an American Express small business credit card.

It all started when a WalMart representative informed me that my digital gift card order had not been completed as a result of a problem with my credit card. I, of course, reacted by immediately flipping the card over and calling the number listed on the back for Amex’s 24/7 small business customer service department…or so I thought.

However, instead of hearing the warm greeting, “Thank you for calling American Express Open,” I was met with the following:

The number you have dialed has new information. Please press “star” to receive information on the number you are calling.

Luckily for me, I was driving and could not press the button immediately. Believing that Amex had changed its number or something along those lines, I was about to press the star key when I heard, “If you decide to subscribe to the service, a charge of $9.99 plus standard message fees for 20 look-ups per month will apply.”

This piqued my interest because the notion that an American Express hotline had been hijacked, so to speak, would be a big deal. Though it turned out that I had misdialed the number, this only tempered my concern slightly, given that I was just one digit off. Instead of dialing 1-800-521-6121, I had keyed in 1-800-521-6161.

My fear is that someone will make the same mistake as me but will not be paying close enough attention early on in the call, as we all know is often the case when calling “1-800 numbers.” The preponderance of automated messages has conditioned us to multi-task when making such calls and to expect being required to press a certain button in order to get connected with the party to whom we wish to speak. Combine this with the increasing prevalence of touch-screen smartphones, which lend themselves to dialing errors, and it’s clear how people could easily end up paying nearly $10 a month when all they wanted was a little help with their business credit card account.

Scammers know this, and that is precisely why they buy up phone numbers that are very similar to high-call-volume numbers, such as those for customer service departments of large mainstream companies.

While I did not fall victim to this tactic and my hope is that no one else does either, this is, at the very least, something to be aware of. It’s also something that American Express should take a look at and/or report to the relevant authorities. Having customers experience difficulties when trying to reach customer service or simply being associated with scams is something that no company wants.

For your listening pleasure, here’s the message I received when I misdialed the phone number for American Express’ business credit card customer service department.

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