Bamboozled April 6, 2017: Is the ‘Can you hear me?’ scam really a scam?

Close-up of a telephone receiver off the hook
The lowdown on phone calls that start with “Can you hear me?” (ThinkStock.com)

It’s the latest and greatest in phone scams, according to news outlets around the country.

Your phone rings, and you answer. After a moment’s pause, the caller asks, “Can you hear me?”

Or, the caller might giggle. “Oh, hi, sorry about that. Can you hear me now?”

Reports say the caller wants you to say the word “yes” so they can record your voice.

As the warnings go, when you answer in the affirmative, scammers can use the recording to prove that you agreed to pay for some kind of product or service. That you authorized some kind of charge on your phone bill, utility bill or credit card account.

While we’re not in the business of defending annoying robocalls, this one isn’t necessarily an outright scam.

Snopes.com, the myth and rumor debunking website, ranks the “Can you hear me?” scam as “unproven.”

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A screen shot of the Snopes.com report on the “Can you hear me?” scam.

“We haven’t yet been able to identify any scenario under which a scammer could authorize charges in another person’s name simply by possessing a voice recording of that person saying ‘yes,’ without also already possessing a good deal of personal and account information for that person, and without being able to reproduce any other form of verbal response from that person,” the website said.

And, the site said: “Even if such a scenario existed, it’s hard to imagine why scammers would need to utilize an actual audio recording of the victim’s repeating the word ‘yes’ rather than simply providing that response themselves.”

Snopes said in all the news reports it examined, none of the consumers who reported they received the calls actually lost money or were scammed in any way.

It also cited Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports of consumers receiving the calls, but none resulted in any unwanted charges or financial loss.

We asked the BBB if that was accurate, and it said yes, it was.

BBBs in the U.S. and Canada have received 1,087 reports of the scam since November, a spokeswoman said, but there are no reports of financial loss.

Despite that, law enforcement agencies and consumer advocates across the country have been warning consumers about the “scam.”

The calls are certainly on the rise, but should you really worry?

A Bamboozled reader wants you to learn from his late father’s experience with scammers.

Bamboozled is more concerned that the calls could be an opening line for a different kind of scam, and saying “yes” could be the least of targeted person’s problems.

With these calls, there’s usually a moment of silence after you answer the telephone. That’s because the “Can you hear me?” voice is usually computer-generated. A robocall.

Your number is probably one of thousands called by scammers who aren’t actually dialing your number, but instead use a computer to make calls one after the other.

When the computer detects a real human answering with a “yes,” it may signal a live scammer to pick up the phone and continue the conversation.

And that conversation could go in a number of directions.

Callers may identify themselves as the Internal Revenue Service or a law enforcement agency, saying you owe back taxes and if you don’t pay now, you could be subject to immediate arrest.

Or they may tell you of your good fortune, and that you’ve won a sweepstakes or lottery.

Or they identify themselves as tech support from Microsoft or another trusted company, and they’ve detected a harmful virus on your computer. If you pay a fee, they’ll fix the non-existent problem.

We could go on, but you get the picture.

The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs doesn’t address this so-called scam specifically, but it warns consumers not to engage scammers.

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A screen shot from the Division of Consumer Affairs’ “Anti-Fraud Toolkit.”

It said even if you don’t reveal personal information during the call, it’s valuable for the scammer to know your phone number is “live,” or that a real person answers the phone. That’s because scammers resell phone numbers and other private information to other bad guys.

“‘Live’ phone numbers are much more valuable than phone numbers that go unanswered,” the agency says in its “Anti-Fraud Toolkit.” “By answering the phone and ‘playing along,’ your number may be resold to others as a ‘live’ number, and you may open yourself up to a flood of bogus calls from other scam artists and fraudsters.”

Consumer Affairs is right.

There are enough frauds out there that we’re a little disappointed with the hysteria over this one. Without proof that someone was harmed, is this really a scam?

You decide.

Whether it’s a real scam or not, what you should do is simple.

Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. If you do, and if someone asks “Can you hear me?” simply hang up. Don’t worry about being rude. If it was a caller who has legitimate business with you, they will call again.

If you’ve already said yes to one of these callers, in an abundance of caution, keep an eye on your credit card statements and your phone and utility bills — just in case. Always better to be safe than sorry.

Either way, you should always be monitoring your bills closely so you can catch any unauthorized charges.

You can report the calls to the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker  and to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online or by calling (888) 382-1222.

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