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What to Know About the “Can You Hear Me?” Scam

Chances are, you’ve heard about the so-called Can You Hear Me? scam.

For months, officials from local police to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have warned, via generous media coverage, about phone calls designed to get you to say yes, reportedly so scammers can make unauthorized charges to your credit card.

This ongoing ploy gets its name from this usual scenario: Your phone rings, usually displaying a local phone number on caller ID to increase the odds you’ll answer. After a brief silence, a cheery woman’s voice says, “Hi there!” and adds with a laugh, “I was having a little trouble with my headset! Can you hear me?” Other versions begin asking “Are you the homeowner?” or “Is this the lady of the house?” — each designed to elicit that affirming answer.

“The caller then records the consumer’s ‘Yes’ response and thus obtains a voice signature,” warns the FCC. “This signature can later be used by the scammers to pretend to be the consumer and authorize fraudulent charges via telephone.”

Should you be concerned? Maybe, but not necessarily because of the much-ballyhooed reason. Here’s why:

  • “The answer ‘Yes’ by itself is not valuable enough for you to be defrauded,” notes an official from Hiya, which provides caller ID and spam protection services, including a call-blocking app for smartphones. To get your money, scammers would also need your name, credit card number and other information.
  • Although lifelike, Can You Hear Me? annoyances are still robocalls, placed with autodialers that blast out millions of calls per day via programmed sequences of phone numbers — dialing X numbers with Y area codes or prefixes over Z period. Typically, robocalling rip-off artists don’t know who owns individual phone numbers dialed or even if those numbers are active. It’s only after saying yes (or anything else in other voice-activated calls) that you’re transferred to a call center, where a live operator takes over to get personal and financial information. In these calls, it’s on claims you won a free cruise or vacation package or to pitch product warranties and home security services.
  • While there have been plenty of complaints from consumers getting these calls — the Federal Trade Commission notes hearing from “hundreds” — reports of resulting fraudulent charges are rare. Few, if any, warnings from police or others detail any victims with financial losses, although one man in Washington state claims an unauthorized $100 charge on his plastic one day after saying yes, and his credit card company promptly refunded the money.

Sure, it’s possible that saying yes on a phone call can be recorded and used by unscrupulous vendors as “proof” of a purchase agreement, leading to unauthorized charges in the illegal practice known as cramming. It’s another reason to carefully review utility bills and credit card and bank statements, looking for often small but ongoing charges for unrecognized services.

The bigger concern, perhaps, is Can You Hear Me? calls may indicate the future of robocall scams that use sophisticated, less robotic-sounding, automated “chatbots” for more convincing cons — or, at least, to solicit a response to verify a working number ripe for future calls. This developing technology is designed to sound so natural that you don’t know it’s a robocall until it’s too late, experts tell the Los Angeles Times.

Your defense: If you answer calls from unrecognized numbers (even local), don’t be fooled by saying yes — or anything else. If there’s silence after your “Hello” greeting, hang up; you’re being transferred to a call center. Don’t follow instructions to opt out of future calls, as this is another trick to identity working numbers for future scam campaigns.

Better yet, don’t even answer.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.

Photo: Liderina/iStock

Also of Interest

  • Fear by phone: High anxiety for you, high profits for scammers
  • Spring cleaning for scam-proofing
  • Get help: Find out if you’re eligible for public benefits with Benefits QuickLINK
  • Join AARP: Savings, resources and news for your well-being

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