Hang up on sketchy callers asking, ‘Can you hear me?’
More than half of all reports to the BBB’s Scam Tracker in the past few days were about this scam.
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Question: Have you heard about that “can you hear me?” scam? Is that for real?
Answer: While there’s no doubt that consumers are receiving unsolicited telephone calls from people they don’t know who try to start a conversation by asking, “Can you hear me?” it is not immediately clear how an affirmative answer results in the call recipient being ripped off.
Still, having received one of these odd calls ourselves last week, we’ll file this in the “better safe than sorry” category and pass along the Hawaii Better Business Bureau’s advice to immediately hang up the phone if you get such a call. Don’t reply “yes” and don’t engage the caller.
Alex Hurtado, a spokeswoman for the BBB in Hawaii, said that the consumer advocacy organization is seeing a nationwide spike in “Can you hear me?” complaints, signifying a new twist on an old scam. The twist is that a scam used to trick businesses into purchasing office supplies or other things they didn’t order is now targeting individual consumers, according to a BBB news release, which explains how it works:
“You get a call from someone who almost immediately asks ‘Can you hear me?’ Their goal is to get you to answer ‘yes,’ which most people would do instinctively in that situation. There may be some fumbling around; the person may even say something like ‘I’m having trouble with my headset.’ But in fact, the ‘person’ may just be a robocall recording your conversation, and that ‘yes’ answer you gave can later be edited to make it sound like you authorized a major purchase.”
More than half of all reports to the BBB’s Scam Tracker in the past few days were about this scam. Callers who stayed on the line (as opposed to immediately hanging up) were solicited to buy vacation packages, cruises, warranties and other big-ticket items. None of the people who reported the calls lost money, the BBB said, “but it’s unclear how the scams will play out over time, or if the targets will be victimized at a later date.”
In Kokua Line’s case, we assumed the caller who asked, “Can you hear me?” before we could even say “hello” had misdialed after trying to reconnect a dropped call with someone else; bad connections aren’t that uncommon, especially on cellphones. We didn’t answer “yes,” but said, “You must have the wrong number,” and hung up. Having since heard from the BBB, we’ll skip even that nicety if another attempt gets through.
Besides the advice to immediately hang up without answering “yes,” the BBB says to:
>> Be alert for other questions designed to solicit a simple “yes,” because scammers change their tactics as the public catches on.
>> Use Caller ID to screen calls, and consider not answering unfamiliar numbers. Legitimate callers should leave a message.
>> Report the caller’s number to bbb.org/scamtracker/hawaii to warn others. The BBB also shares Scam Tracker information with government and law enforcement agencies.
>> Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry (donotcall.gov) to reduce certain telemarketing and sales calls. Doing so won’t combat fraudulent robocalls, but should reduce the overall volume of sales calls.
>> Always check your bank and credit card statements for unauthorized charges. Check your telephone and cellphone bills for unfamiliar fees as well. According to the BBB: “Scammers may be using the ‘yes’ recording of your voice to authorize charges on your phone. This is called ‘cramming’ and it’s illegal.”
Mahalo to the kind motorist who helped when my car stalled on the H-1 eastbound during rush hour traffic Monday morning. I was able to pull over to the so-called shoulder, and he quickly figured out what was wrong and got me going again. In the rush to get moving so traffic wasn’t stalled behind me, I failed to get his name and properly thank him. I do appreciate the assistance. — A reader
Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.