A family that was stranded in Maui amid the wildfires was taken advantage of by scammers who took their money after posing to be ticket agents for Southwest Airlines.
Kevin and Megan Morgan were on vacation with their 8-month-old baby when the smoke and fire began, leading Megan to Google the number for Southwest customer service to discuss a flight change to get them off the island immediately.
Except there was one problem — the number wasn’t actually the number associated with Southwest, but rather a fake number that hackers had changed so that when dialed, it would put the caller in contact with a scammer posing to work for the company to extort them from money.
The scammer told Morgan it would be a $200 change fee, something that set off an alarm in her head causing her to hang up the phone.
“I’m like, ‘No, no, no, there shouldn’t be change fees. This is Southwest. And he says, on the phone, ‘I’ve told you four times now, this is how much it costs if you want to change it,” she recounted to local outlet CBS 13.
Later that night, Morgan went on to check her flight status only to see that the hacker had used the information she gave him (the names of her family members and the flight confirmation numbers) to cancel their flights and use the flight credit to book a flight for someone else.
“I’m pretty aware of certain, you know, different ways people are scamming other people, but I have never heard of this and it’s obviously very sophisticated,” she said.
Morgan said that since most flights out were booked, she and her family had to rebook everything for a steep $3,400.
“We are disheartened to learn that a customer was taken advantage of by someone impersonating one of our employees,” Southwest said in a statement to CBS 13. “Our customer engagement team is in touch with the customer to learn more as well as offer assistance, and we are investigating the matter internally.”
The Morgan family is one of many who have fallen victim to the airline phone number scam on Google.
His experience inspired him to investigate further, and he learned that nearly a dozen other airlines had their Google numbers changed by hackers.
“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,” a Google spokesperson said to CNN at the time. “Our teams have already begun reverting the inaccuracies, suspending the malicious accounts involved, and applying additional protections to prevent further abuse.”
Moral of the story — always contact an airline directly through their website.