(CBS) – If you receive a phone call from a stranger asking “can you hear me?” hang up. Otherwise, you could become a victim in the latest scam circulating around the country.
Police in Virginia and Pennsylvania raised warnings about the scheme in late 2016. It’s a variation on other scams aimed at getting the victim to say the word “yes” in a phone conversation. Fraudsters will record the affirmative answer and use it to authorize unwanted charges on a phone or utility bill or on a stolen credit card.
“You say ‘yes,’ it gets recorded and they say that you have agreed to something,” said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of America told CBS News. “I know that people think it’s impolite to hang up, but it’s a good strategy.”
But how can you get charged if you don’t provide a payment method? The con artist already has your phone number, and
Many phone providers pass through third-party charges through just a phone number and your response. Fraudsters could already have some of your information, including a credit card or a bill.
When the victim disputes the charge, the crook can respond that they have your authorization.
If you suspect you have already been victimized, check your credit card, phone and cable statements carefully for any unfamiliar charges. Call the billing company — whether your credit card company or your phone provider — and dispute anything that you didn’t authorize on purpose. If they say you have been recorded approving the charge and you have no recollection of that, ask for proof.
If you need help disputing an unauthorized credit card charge, contact the Federal Trade Commission. If the charge hit your phone bill, the Federal Communications Commission regulates phone bill “cramming.”
If you have not yet been victimized, the best way to avoid telemarketing calls from con artists is to sign up for a free blocking service, such as Nomorobo, or simply let calls from unfamiliar numbers go to your answering machine. Scammers rarely leave a message.
If you do answer a call from an unfamiliar number, be skeptical of strangers asking questions that would normally elicit a “yes” response. The question doesn’t have to be “can you hear me?” It could be “are you the lady of the house?”; “do you pay the household telephone bills?”; “are you the homeowner?”; or any number of similar yes/no questions. A reasonable response to any of these questions is: “Who are you, and why do you want to know?”
If the caller maintains they are with a government agency, hang up immediately. Government agencies communicate via mail. The longer you talk, the more likely you are to say something that will allow them to make you a victim.