The “Can You Hear Me?” Scam

Author: Aaron Reese

The public provides the BBB information daily about scams they’ve encountered.

Sometimes the targets of these scams seek advice. Other times they just want to let us know what’s going on. I had the intention to write about the many scams that we hear about day in, day out, but one scam has so completely dominated 2017 that I’m just going to talk about it: the so-called “Can you hear me?” scam.

About a year ago, the BBB was overwhelmed by reports of tax collection scams, but an October raid on the scam’s Mumbai call center nearly eradicated it from existence. Before that, a full 25% of BBB scam reports in 2016 were about IRS imposters. The BBB will talk more about IRS scams soon, now that tax season is again upon us, but not today.

This year, reports from people getting calls that ask, “can you hear me?” make up more than 60% of all BBB scam reports.

PhoneIf you’ve watched the news, you’ve probably heard of this scam. Warnings about the scam have been issued by a few local news stations, attorneys general, and the Kansas City BBB.

The way it works is a scammer calls a target and quickly says something like, “I’m having trouble hearing you, can you hear me?” (We refer to people who are the targets of scams as “targets;” once they lose money, we call them victims.)

Frequently, as soon as the target answers “yes,” the caller hangs up. In most cases, the phone call is not actually from a person. The voice on the other end is just a recorded message. You can listen to two versions of the recording at www.bbb.org/canyouhearme, provided by Pindrop. In the Kansas City area, the recorded caller most often says “This is Josh from customer service.”

The BBB is often asked, “why would anyone want to record my voice?” and “what are they doing with it?” Both good questions and, while we’re not exactly sure what scammers are doing with recorded voices, we’re painfully aware of what they can do with them.

For years, scammers have been calling businesses with fake sales pitches and recording conversations. They call offering toner, printer cartridges, office supplies, etc. At some point during the phone call, the scammer gets the business representative to say “yes.” The target usually confirms that the caller has reached the correct business or verifies their address. People instinctively answer honestly when they know the answer to a yes or no question.

The scammer calls the business owner weeks or months later and demands an exorbitant amount of money. In between phone calls to the business, the scammer has doctored a recording, making it seem like the first representative agreed to buy something. The scammer threatens the business owner with a lawsuit if they don’t pay.

This scam method can apply to a household.
The BBB spoke with KSHB reporter Ali Hoxie about a woman she interviewed who was targeted by the “can you hear me” scam. The caller originally spoke to the wife of the household and got her to say “yes.” When the scammer called back, he asked to speak to the husband. Ms. Hoxie intercepted the phone call.

It’s more than likely that this scam is also a simple way to confirm that the phone number they’ve called is in operation and that a live person answers the phone. Scammers buy lead lists just like any legitimate business and knowing that someone picks up the phone is valuable information. Because unsolicited robocalls are illegal in the United States, we already know that whoever is collecting recorded voices will not use them for legitimate purposes.

Any consumer whose active phone line is added to a black market lead list can expect a drastic increase in scam phone calls and texts.

Sure, this is all speculation, but what we do know for sure is that some shady group is making illegal pre-recorded phone calls with the intention of eliciting a “yes” from targets. And no one operates a massive nationwide scheme without an endgame. They have one. We’re just not privy to it… yet.

If you receive a call like those described above, be sure to check the BBB’s tips on how to handle them. The best way is to hang up!

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