In many old horror films, there are situations where a phone rings. The audience, instinctively, yells at the screen, “Don’t answer the phone!” In our world, there is a similar situation, thanks to the rise in telemarketers and scam artists trying to make innocent people the subject of real-life horror stories, complete with identity theft and credit fraud.
Recently, the Federal Communications Commission issued a warning to consumers about a relatively new scam hooking individuals with just one word: “Yes.”
According to the FCC, the scam begins as soon as an individual answers the phone. A recorded voice or an actual person asks, “Can you hear me?” And the consumer responds, “Yes.”
“The caller records the consumer’s ‘Yes’ response and thus obtains a voice signature,” according to an FCC news release. “This signature can later be used by the scammers to pretend to be the consumer and authorize fraudulent charges via telephone.”
According to complaints that the FCC has received and public news reports, the fraudulent callers impersonate representatives from organizations that provide a service and may be familiar to the person receiving the call, such as a mortgage lender or utility, to establish a legitimate reason for trying to reach the consumer.
What is most disheartening about this twist on the tried-and-proven scam is that it relies on “local” phone numbers, not out-of-area exchanges. Individuals are more likely to pick up if an unfamiliar number is local, as they might think it’s someone from their child’s school, or a neighbor, or someone with whom they might be familiar. This is less likely to happen with calls from non-local area codes, anonymous calls or calls from toll-free exchanges.
The FCC shared the following tips:
• Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. Let them go to voicemail.
• If you answer and the caller (often a recording) asks you to hit a button to stop receiving calls, just hang up. Scammers often use these tricks to identify, and then target, live respondents.
• If you receive a scam call, write down the number and file a complaint with the FCC (www.fcc.gov) so it can help identify and take appropriate action to help consumers targeted by illegal callers.
• Ask your phone service provider if it offers a robocall blocking service. If not, encourage your provider to offer one. You can also visit the FCC’s web site for information and resources on available robocall blocking tools to help reduce unwanted calls.
• Consider registering all of your telephone numbers, including cellular numbers, in the National Do Not Call Registry (www.donotcall.gov).
The “Can you hear me?” scam detailed above has been listed as “unproven” by the popular web site Snopes, which helps people determine truth from fiction on the Internet. The scam has been classified as such because Snopes has “yet 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.”
Nevertheless, this concern is still extremely plausible, especially with advents in new technology. Even if a scammer doesn’t use a “yes” answer to attempt to sign someone up for an unwanted service or product, it still has value to the scammers. Just by answering, that person has proven their phone number is active, which indicates an individual will answer calls from unknown numbers. The scammer can then turn around and sell the number to other questionable solicitors. Better safe than sorry!