June 17, 2024

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Winnipeg man caught in scam after AI told him fake Facebook customer support number was legitimate

6 min read

A Winnipeg man who says he was scammed out of hundreds of dollars when he called what he thought was a Facebook customer support hotline wants to warn others about what can go wrong. 

“I just felt like I needed to say more because other people are going to fall for this. It was such a good scam,” Dave Gaudreau told CBC.

Gaudreau says the scammer he called was able to access his Facebook account.

What he didn’t know at the time is there is no phone number for Facebook customer support.

The problem started after Gaudreau, a former Manitoba NDP member of the legislature, got a new cellphone in April and needed to transfer his apps, including Facebook, to his new phone.

But when he hit a problem moving his Facebook account over to the new phone, his wife did an online search and found what appeared to be a phone number for Facebook customer support.

Before phoning the number, Gaudreau did a search in Facebook Messenger to find out whether it was legitimate.

The answer he got in Messenger from the “Meta AI” artificial intelligence search tool was that the phone number he found, 1-844-457-0520, was “indeed a legitimate Facebook support number.”

A screen capture shows a message that says Meta AI at top on a blue background, followed by a text message typed in black on a white background.
Gaudreau took this screen capture of his message from Meta AI, after he did a search to confirm the supposed tech support number. (Submitted by Dave Gaudreau)

“According to Meta, right on the Facebook app, it’s telling me that this is right. So I had no reason to think it wasn’t,” Gaudreau said.

When Gaudreau phoned the number, he was asked for his Facebook username, the email address linked to his account, and his phone number, which he gave to the woman on the other end of the line. 

She then opened his Facebook account.

That’s when the call took a turn, said Gaudreau.

“She was trying to tell me that we were being hacked, that our IP address was hacked and that they were watching every keystroke,” he recalled.

The woman said she would clear the hackers out, but he had to give her access to his phone through an app she had him download.

But during the phone call, he says someone also accessed his PayPal account and used it to buy a $500 Apple gift card, on a monthly renewal.

The person on the call also tried to buy bitcoin, Gaudreau said, but thankfully his bank refused that attempted purchase. 

His wife caught on first. 

“She said, ‘Hang up on them.… This is a scam,'” Gaudreau said, adding he still thought there was someone from Meta on the phone, because they were able to open his Facebook account.  

“But I did hang up on them. And then we proceeded to call our bank and the internet provider and everybody else,” he said.

WATCH | How Gaudreau got caught in the scam:

Winnipeg’s Dave Gaudreau called a phone number he thought was for Facebook customer service, after checking it in a search through Facebook Messenger’s AI tool — but ended up on a call with a scammer.

Gaudreau cancelled credit cards and locked his bank accounts. He filed fraud complaints with PayPal and Visa, a police report, and alerts with the credit bureaus Equifax and TransUnion. 

He also filed a complaint with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

He was pleased when PayPal agreed to reverse the $500 charge against his account.

“PayPal was amazing,” Gaudreau said. “The next day they contacted me and said, ‘OK, we’re on it.'”

CBC calls ‘customer service’ line

A CBC reporter called the “support line” phone number Gaudreau used, without identifying as a journalist, and reached someone who said he was with Meta. 

Asked if the number was for a legitimate Facebook support line, he said, “Yeah, this is Facebook customer service.”

The man asked a number of questions, including asking for an email address to verify the account.

When the reporter said she wasn’t comfortable giving that, the man said, “I appreciate your caution. But … you’re the one who called me,” adding “even I am not asking your name. I’m just asking the email ID to confirm that account.”

WATCH | Here’s an excerpt from CBC’s call to the support line:

Here’s what happened when CBC called a fake tech support line

A Winnipeg man says he fell victim to a scam when he called a supposed number for Facebook technical support — which he found in a Facebook search. Here’s an edited excerpt of what happened when CBC reporter Caroline Barghout phoned the same number.

The man then gave the reporter his full name, suggesting she Google it. A search found a LinkedIn account that appeared to show he was the “head of technical solutions consultants” at Facebook.

CBC messaged the LinkedIn account. The man who replied denied any involvement in the call.

A white screen image with a blurred photo and descriptive text is surrounded by a blurry vertical band of colour on both sides.
A search for the name given by an operator at the ‘support line’ phone number turned up this LinkedIn account, identifying the person as the ‘head of technical solutions consultants at Facebook.’ (LinkedIn)

Gaudreau also filed a complaint with Meta, the company that owns Facebook.

“Nobody’s gotten back to me” from Meta, he said. “And that’s another reason why I want to bring this forward, because it just seems like they operate with impunity. They don’t have to answer to me.”

There is a phone number for Meta online. When CBC called it, an automated recording said, “Please note that we are unable to provide telephone support at this time,” and directed callers to meta.com/help.

In response to a request for comment from CBC about Gaudreau’s case, a Meta spokesperson said in a Friday afternoon email that “Meta AI can sometimes produce inaccurate information, and we are continually working to make it better.”

The company ran its own searches with Meta AI to see if the results would be similar to what Gaudreau got when he searched the phone number, but the results were different, according to Meta’s spokesperson.

“Scammers use every platform available to them to defraud people and constantly adapt to avoid enforcement,” and Meta is working with law enforcement agencies and other organizations to understand the techniques used by hackers and scammers to circumvent the company’s policies and systems, the spokesperson said.

A Winnipeg Police Service spokesperson told CBC they have an active investigation open, and the case has been forwarded to the financial crimes unit.

AI tools ‘don’t know what truth is’: prof

Gaudreau says after this ordeal, he no longer trusts AI. Prof. David Gerhard, head of computer science at the University of Manitoba, says that’s wise.

“You absolutely should not trust AI. It is a very powerful tool that makes mistakes,” Gerhard, who has studied artificial intelligence and social media, said in an interview.

He likened it to “a hyper-intelligent eight-year-old that desperately wants to please you. It knows everything about everything, but it will give you a wrong answer rather than say, ‘I don’t know.'”

Artificial intelligence models don’t understand what truth is, said Gerhard.

WATCH | A computer scientist explains why AI can’t be trusted:

Computer science prof explains how AI makes mistakes

David Gerhard, the head of computer science at the University of Manitoba, says artificial intelligence cannot be trusted to give truthful answers to questions.

The AI software that Meta uses in the Messenger app — where Gaudreau went to confirm the fake support number — is called Llama 3. Like the better-known ChatGPT, it’s what’s known as a “large language model,” Gerhard said.

“Llama and other large language models are trained on everything. They’re trained on all of the internet. And the problem there is that there’s a lot of bad information on the internet,” he said — which also means they don’t have an understanding of truth.

“They don’t know what truth is or how to get to it,” said Gerhard.

“So don’t use a large language model to verify facts.”

Gerhard says Gaudreau’s case is troubling because Facebook AI gave him incorrect information that led to him getting scammed.

“The fact that it’s very difficult to find a way to talk to a human in these companies is problematic,” he said.

AI told Winnipegger a fake support number was OK

A Winnipeg man is warning anyone experiencing problems with Facebook not to phone any tech support numbers you find online. That’s because he fell victim to a scam, after Meta AI told him a fake support line number was legitimate.

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