'Can you hear me?' Scammers want the magic word

This one word a phone scam is trying to get you to say can cost you big.

Most times when we hear of a scam we think, “How could someone fall for that?!” Here’s a new one that anyone can fall for if you aren’t forewarned.

It’s called the “Can You Hear Me?” scam and the Better Business Bureau of New Jersey has received dozens of complaints about it already. The calls can take any form; a come-on for a vacation, a product warranty, a cruise, etc. But at some point early in the call a voice will ask you, “Can you hear me?” The question may come after something like, “Oooh, my headset just slipped, I’m sorry. Can you hear me?” The voice is often not a live person but a robot, and one made to sound completely like a real live person.

All they are trying to get you to say is the one word…”Yes.”

If you say yes, beware. Scammers are apparently lifting your voice saying yes, then editing it to make it sound like it came in response not to the question they really asked, but rather to a question like, “Do you authorize this payment?” This has already happened with a number of businesses being scammed. Now it appears these scammers are going after residential numbers.

This is such an easy scam to fall for that 100% of us are vulnerable. What to do about it? They say if you get a call like this that asks at any point, “Can you hear me?” don’t say a word and just hang up. Also the Better Business Bureau would appreciate you reporting it to them. If you think you’ve already had a call like this, pay close attention to all bank statements, credit card statements, and even your phone bill for unauthorized charges. 

So what can you do? The BBB says:

  • Use your Caller ID to screen calls. If you don't recognize the number, don't pick up. If it's important, someone will leave a message.
  • If someone calls and asks "Can you hear me?" don't answer yes. Just hang up.
  • Be on the look out for other questions designed to get you to answer yes. Scammers change tactics when the public catches on.
  • Report the call to BBB Scam Tracker. BBB shares its reports with government and law enforcement agencies.
  • Check your bank and credit card statements for unauthorized charges. Look at your phone bills too as scammers may use the recording to authorize services and charges, an illegal practice known as cramming.

Recently, Lakewood resident Wilma Tanney got one of these calls from a soft-spoken caller named Emily. "She said, 'Can you hear me now?''' I said, 'Yes, I can,'" Tanney recalled. "She said, 'I am so sorry my headpiece slipped.'''

The woman told her she had won a vacation, and Tanney hung up.

She and her husband Don later heard about the scam on the news and are now on alert. "It's so easy for someone to trick you to say the word yes," Don Tanney said. "We will try to be more careful, obviously."

Fraudsters are persistent and sophisticated, said Adam Levin, chairman and founder of CyberScout.

"They've incorporated human nature into this," said Levin, a former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. "They are counting on the fact that you're distracted because you have a life. And since you are their life .... they will do everything they possibly can to lure you into whatever it is they want you to do."

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