Over the weekend, as airports in the northeastern U.S. endured another 1,300 flight cancellations, reports surfaced of a complex scam operation that has allegedly compromised Google search results.
A Twitter user identifying himself as Shmuli Evers posted that the local phone number he was shown for Delta Air Lines via a Google search actually linked to a scam call center that pretended to be the genuine airline.
The allegedly false Delta representative asked for Evers' flight details and attempted to switch communication to a different number. Then the "Delta" rep attempted to extract the caller's credit card information for an alternative flight.
You can read the messy details of the exchange with the alleged scammer on Evers' Twitter thread.
Smelling something fishy, Evers said he then checked the phone numbers for several other airlines on Google, including Southwest and American, and claimed he found several more that had been compromised in the Google-generated synopsis.
In the image below, which was posted by Evers on Twitter, the fake local Delta number (needless to say, you shouldn't call it) is posted above the correct 800 number that Evers submitted to Google as a correction.
Although Frommer's was unable to replicate Evers' results a day later, it wouldn't surprise us if the events unfolded as described. In a world where giant tech companies obtain results from user submissions and automated search crawls, incorrect information is bound to slip through, particularly when forced through by unscrupulous scam operations.
We often see that bad information collection takes the more innocuous form of incorrect operating hours, but if scammers are able to breach Google's fail-safe methods to post bogus phone numbers, then the search giant has a major security problem.
Our advice to avoid being tricked by a racket is simple: Do not trust any search engine to relay a business' phone number.
Always obtain the phone number directly from the official website of the business you need to call. Google does not function as the phone book once did, so don't treat the search engine the same way.
In research, that's called getting info from a primary source, but your grandmother might have called it straight from the horse's mouth.
Come to think of it, using a horse for your summer travel plans instead of an airline might yield better results, too.
Good job to Evers for heeding his inner red flags and posting his warning.
Whether or not your own search results are compromised, remember to always get your crucial details not from a search engine's convenience-oriented summary but directly from the official website or social media channel of the business in question.
Update: Google confirmed the reports and provided Frommer's with the following statement: "We do not tolerate this misleading activity, and are constantly monitoring and evolving our platforms to combat fraud and create a safe environment for users and businesses. Our teams have already begun reverting the inaccuracies, suspending the malicious accounts involved, and applying additional protections to prevent further abuse."