Scammers recently changed the phone numbers that appear in Google search results for several major airlines, redirecting some customers to call a number where the person who answered would try to steal their money.
Shmuli Evers, a Brooklyn, New York-based software designer, noticed it Sunday when his Delta flight departing John F. Kennedy International Airport was canceled. The in-person line for customer service was long, so he searched Google for the airline’s phone number to reschedule his flight, he said in a thread that went viral on Twitter. Other Twitter users chimed in with similar experiences.
Instead of reaching a Delta employee, Evers said he spoke to a man with a thick accent who hung up and called him back from a different number. That man then asked for payment to book a rescheduled flight. Evers recognized it as a scam and scrapped his trip.
He then went on to document six other airlines, including American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Air France, that had incorrect numbers served up by Google.
Those airlines did not respond to emails requesting comment. Search results for each of the airlines, including Delta, have since been corrected. It’s not clear how the numbers were changed or who changed them.
The number change scam comes as people in the U.S. have faced widespread delays and cancellations at airports across the country, thanks in part to severe weather and staffing shortages.
Internet scams and crimes have become increasingly common and costly. The FBI’s annual Internet Crime Complaint Center report found that victims last year reported a record $10.3 billion in online losses.
A Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the company does “not tolerate this misleading activity.”
“Our teams have already begun reverting the inaccuracies, suspending the malicious accounts involved, and applying additional protections to prevent further abuse,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson refused to address questions about how long the problem persisted, how many airlines were successfully impersonated, or why there weren’t better protections in place for major companies like the airlines.
Google has struggled to counter scammers who have learned how to get fake contact information to show up when users look up a company on Google Search or Maps.
Those results come from Google’s internal database for companies, called Business Profiles. Google usually verifies someone’s claim to own a company through a mailed postcard, phone call or video chat. Last month, Google sued a man and his companies for allegedly offering verification-for-pay services to take over search results for businesses, which it says were popular with scammers.
A Delta spokesperson said the company was looking into the incident.
“Whenever we become aware of an alleged scam targeting our customers, including in this situation, we immediately conduct an investigation,” the spokesperson said, adding that Delta advises customers to actually visit the Delta website to verify they’re calling the right number.
Evers told NBC News that he was frustrated by Google’s response to him almost being scammed but that he was glad it was getting attention.
“I am happy that there is more awareness coming to this issue to get it resolved,” he said.