A catchy little question containing four simple words is now being used in the latest telephone scam.
“Can you hear me?”
You might have heard these words in advertisements associated with a telephone company. But it’s not a commercial for Verizon.
Instead, this question is being used by scammers to steal money from unsuspecting victims.
However, there are ways to spot this scam and ultimately avoid it, according to Timothy Lohman, a detective who specializes in solving forgery, fraud, and financial crimes.
How the “Can You Hear Me” Scam Works:
“Your phone rings and the other person on the end of the line asks, ‘can you hear me?’” explained Lohman, a detective for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Thousand Oaks Division.
Typically, people will answer “yes.”
But that’s the exact answer these criminals are looking for. And with one little word, you can become a victim.
“The ‘yes’ response is referred to as a voice signature,” Lohman explained. “Companies will legitimately use this to show that you have agreed to a service, change or upgrade.”
However, the scammer will record your “yes” response, which allows them to authorize unwanted upgrades or services.
Scammers have become savvy with this crime, so be mindful of any question that prompts a “yes,” “sure,” or “okay” response. Some criminals might even go as far as editing your words to make it sound like you gave authorization.
“The ‘yes’ constitutes a verbal contract for additional services,” Lohman said. “It’s similar to clicking the ‘agree’ on a contract received via computer to accept additional services.”
But the scammer’s goal is to sell you products, upgrades or services you do not want, such as cruises, vacation packages, warranties or other big ticket items.
And, in return, the scammer is rewarded.
“The scammer may gain an incentive from the company they are working for to gain personal information from the victim,” Lohman warned.
What is a Robocall?
In the fall of last year, the Better Business Bureau reported a variation of this crime in which the scammer claims to work for home security or a cruise line.
In yet another variation, criminals use the “yes” recording to authorize charges on a stolen credit card by duping the automated telephone system.
These deceptive calls are typically referred to as a robocall, which is a recorded message instead of a live human being on the other line.
“Robocalls have become so sophisticated that they can be programmed to interact with a caller and convince the caller they are a real person,” Lohman said.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, if you receive a robocall in an attempt to sell you something – and you haven’t given the caller your written permission – it’s an illegal call.
Related: How to Identify & Avoid Phone Scams
The Federal Trade Commission is working hard to fight this scam, and has reportedly brought over 100 lawsuits against hundreds of individuals and companies responsible.
The good news is that this scam is pretty simple to spot. The red flag indicator is the question, “can you hear me?”
“You can always push any key on your phone to acknowledge you can hear them without saying yes,” Lohman said.
What Products or Services are They Trying to Sell?
“It could be a fake cell phone company or magazine sales – it’s quite a range,” Lohman said. “It could be simple like a computer upgrade or product.”
What Does the Scammer Gain by Making Me a Victim?
Money is the bottom line.
“These people get a percentage of sales – ultimately taking your hard-earned money,” Lohman said.
For instance, when Lohman worked an IRS scam in which people were falsely told they owed money to the government, the criminals received a percentage of the money they stole from unsuspecting consumers.
“The criminals committing the IRS scam may scam $2,000 from someone, and they may get one percent of that,” Lohman said. “This adds up over time if they find enough victims.”
How Do They Get a “Yes”?
According to Better Business Bureau consumer reports, scammers might try to prompt the word “yes” with the following questions:
- Are you the homeowner?
- Are you over 18?
- Do you pay the household bills?
- Do you have a home computer?
How Can I Tell the Difference Between a Robocall and a Human?
“That’s a tough one because of their sophistication,” Lohman admitted.
However, there are ways to differentiate whether you’re receiving a call from a robot or an actual person.
Lohman learned first-hand.
“I got a call one time and it was silent for a second,” he recalled. “And then the person on the other line said, ‘oh, I’m sorry, I’m adjusting my headset’.”
The caller then went immediately into the sales pitch.
“As soon as it went into the sales pitch, I immediately hung up,” Lohman said. “I didn’t stay on the phone long enough to hear the pitch.”
If there’s a pause between you saying “hello” and the response from the caller, there’s a good chance it’s a scam. That’s because it takes a few brief moments for a computerized voice recognition system to know there’s someone on the other line.
“If you say hello and you just sit there and don’t interact and the other person continues to talk, it very well might be a scam,” Lohman said. “If I said hello, I would expect you to say hello back, like a typical conversation. I wouldn’t expect you to go into a sales pitch.”
This scam can also be detected by asking questions of the caller.
“If I start to talk and the caller on the other line is still talking over me, it’s a good chance it’s a robocall,” Lohman said.
If I Don’t Provide Payment Method Over the Phone, How Can I Be Charged?
“Basically what ends up happening, they’ll just bill you for an upgrade service or an existing service,” Lohman explained.
“And when you try to say, well I didn’t sign up for that service, they’ll say sure you did, because we have a voice confirmation that you accepted this service over the phone.”
The scammer might ask for payment over the phone.
“But mostly likely they just need your ‘yes’,” Lohman said. “Some people might figure out it’s a sales call, but if you have already answered ‘yes,’ they have your yes confirmation and that authorizes whatever type of service they’re trying to provide.”
What if I Fall Victim to This Telephone Scam?
“First, if you receive a call like this, document the date and time you received that particular call,” Lohman advised. “You can always file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and you can do that online.”
To file a report, visit ftc.gov or call 1-877-FTC-HELP.
In other advice, the Better Business Bureau suggests keeping a close eye on your account statements if you believe you are a victim of this telephone scam.
The Better Business Bureau also advises to check your telephone and cell phone bills, because criminals might use the “yes” response to authorize charges to your phone.
To help warn others, the Better Business Bureau offers a free, online scam tracker.
Victims of this scam can also report the incident to the police at 9-1-1.
Don’t be a Victim of the “Can You Hear Me” Scam:
How do you handle calls like these? Lohman offers the following tips:
- Don’t answer calls from phone numbers you do not recognize. If they want to talk to you, they will leave a message.
- Don’t answer any questions and hang up immediately.
- Don’t give out your personal identifying information.
- Don’t confirm your phone number over the phone. Your number can be sold to other scammers.
- If your caller ID produces a phone number for the scammer, you can block the number on your cell phone device.
Additionally, you can register with the National Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov.
“Keep in mind there have been various degrees of success with this site to stop all calls, but the Federal Trade Commission allows you to report unwanted calls online after you have been registered for 31 days,” Lohman said.
According to the Better Business Bureau, in the end of January, more than 50 percent of the reports to their Scam Tracker have involved the “can you hear me” scam.
Thankfully, there have been no reports of this particular scam reported in the jurisdiction of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, Lohman said.
“As far as I know, it has not made its way here yet, but it’s best to be precautionary,” he said.
To learn more about the latest scams and ways to avoid them, check out other articles we have written on the subject:
- How to Avoid 4 Common Craigslist Rental Scams
- Top 16 Senior Scams and Ways to Avoid Them
- How to Get Your Money Back If You Were Scammed Online