ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The “can you hear me” scam is undergoing some diabolical changes, with improved voice technology ensnaring more victims.
The gist of this con is that when you answer the phone, the caller will ask a question, such as “Can you hear me?,” in hopes of recording your “yes” answer. That recording can then be used to authorize unwanted charges on a credit card or other accounts. In most cases, these are automated robocalls.
An Albuquerque man who contacted me last week described a much-refined version of this scam that has been sweeping the country. He said it started when he answered the phone, even though he didn’t recognize the number, because it was from a 505 exchange and he was awaiting medical news about a loved one.
Right off, the caller used his name when he picked up, saying “Bob?” (This is a made-up name. The man didn’t want to be identified.)
He fell for it, and responded with the dreaded “yes.” The woman then said, “Thank God you answered. I am so sick of getting voicemail all the time.'” At that point, he had a feeling it was not a legitimate call and hung up.
“They utilized a woman’s voice that must have been intensively `market-researched,'” he said. “Unlike some mechanisms that infer a once-removed, somewhat indistinct recording, this one seemed to utilize an ambient sense of someone actually standing by their phone, in a room. It’s a subtle but important matter that sound engineers would know about …”
The state Attorney General’s Office is seeing an increase in complaints about this scam, although “none of the consumers who have reported being targeted by this scam have noticed anything suspicious on their accounts,” said Cholla Khoury, the office’s director of consumer and environmental protection.
The Los Angeles Times reports that automated “conversational agents,” or chatbots, are playing an increasing role in interacting with humans. That’s because natural-speech technology is advancing rapidly. And that raises the possibility of greater difficulty in identifying a robocalling scammer.
“For these very advanced scams, sometimes there is no quick and easy way to identify it as a robocall or scam,” Khoury says. She says the “No. 1 thing” to do as protection is to avoid answering if you don’t recognize the incoming number. The “can you hear me” scam tends to show up as a local number, but still, let unknown callers go to voicemail. Someone legitimate will leave a message.
However if you do answer, Khoury has this advice: “In this particular type of scam, where the caller is attempting to get you to say `yes’ before any further conversations, one way to avoid falling prey is to ask the caller to identify themselves right away, simply saying something like `I’m sorry, but I don’t recognize this number, who am I speaking with?’ can help protect you from falling victim.”
If you do answer yes, be vigilant about watching your financial records “to make sure all charges are yours. It’s not enough to just look at the balance. Make sure you go through the charges,” Khoury says. You can also place a credit freeze on your account to prevent anyone from opening new accounts in your name.
Report an incident to the AG’s Office at 1-844-255-9210 and to the Federal Communications Commission at www.fcc.gov/consumers.
Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-823-3842.