By now everyone is familiar with basic phone and email scams, and they are becoming less likely to fall for them. It’s common knowledge that if someone asks for a credit card number to bail out a Nigerian prince, they’re probably not being very truthful.
That doesn’t mean the scammers are ready to quit—they’re just changing their ways.
And while we might think we’re savvy, one scam that’s been going around the past few months uses such a common four-word phrase that you won’t even think twice about it—but it could be enough for scammers to steal your identity.
The new scam has different variations and has been reported around the United States, Canada, and Europe. A woman named Teresa Thomas, from Minneapolis, described a typical call she received from an unknown number:
“The person on the other line sounded like a young woman,” Thomas told ABC News. “She was giggling and she said, ‘Oh, I didn’t expect you to pick up! Can you hear me?'”
“Which, of course, if someone asks if you can hear them, I said the logical thing and I said, ‘Yes.'”
She didn’t hand them any credit cards or social security numbers—but the scammers got all they needed.
They wanted her to say ‘Yes’ to obtain her voice signature.
The caller will always ask some innocent-sounding question to get a “yes” response from the victim—usually, “Can you hear me?” (although variations include “Are you the lady of the house?” or “Are you the homeowner?”)
It isn’t the old Verizon spokesman testing his reception—it’s an automated call, and they’re recording your response.
“The caller then records the consumer’s ‘Yes’ response and thus obtains a voice signature,” the FCC wrote in a consumer alert.
“This signature can later be used by the scammers to pretend to be the consumer and authorize fraudulent charges via telephone.”
The scammers can also use the recording to make it more difficult for you to deny the charges—and they’ve been getting away with it.
“A lot of times, victims don’t want to come forward because they’re embarrassed,” a police officer told CBS News. “And so we don’t get a whole lot of reports, unfortunately.”
The only solution: Be aware, and don’t respond.
“I know that people think it’s impolite to hang up,” said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of America. “But it’s a good strategy.”
The FCC also offered some additional guidelines for preventing this and other scams from happening to you.
- Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers.
- Don’t respond if they ask if you want to be taken off their calling list—it’s a trap. They’re only doing it to confirm you’re a live caller.
- File complaints with the FCC.
- Register for the “Do Not Call Registry,” and see if your phone provider offers a robocall blocking service.