Whether it’s a robocall with a three-second delay asking for donations or a human asking about your car’s extended warranty, we all know spam calls far too well at this point. But did you know that while these calls aren’t only annoying, they may also be dangerous?
A current phone scam uses the harmless phrase, “Can you hear me?”, for a much more menacing reason than confirming if the speaker is audible enough. If you’ve ever thought about just hanging up on an unknown call to be safe, read further to see why that’s probably your smartest option today.
The ‘Can you hear me?’ phone scam, explained
Phone scammers are looking for two main things out of their call with you:
- for you to just directly give them money, and
- for you to give them information about you that they may use to impersonate you for fraudulent purposes.
The "Can you hear me?" phone scam fits into the latter category and is being used by scammers to deceive and defraud people. It typically starts with an unsolicited phone call from an unknown number, and when you answer, the caller—typically an AI-driven robocaller—will pose as a representative from a well-known company, government agency, organization, or even a charity. They may even use fake caller ID numbers or names to give the impression of being legitimate.
However, the scammer's main objective is to get you to utter the word “yes” during your conversation. They may ask "Can you hear me?” or even “Is this [Your Name]?” They’re hoping for a “yes” that they may record and use fraudulently, in your own voice. Sneaky, sneaky.
But how might a simple "yes" be so dangerous? Since it is recorded in your voice, scammers can then engineer it to make it sound like you authorized a transaction, agreed to a contract, or even use it to support unauthorized credit card charges, utility bill payments, or loans.
Phone scams hit too close to home
The "Can you hear me?" phone scam is one to watch for, but it’s not the only AI-driven phone scam to keep on your radar. Scammers are now able to use AI technology to clone your voice (or that of a family member or friend) and use it to target your loved ones. The AI-driven robocaller will use the voice of someone you know and trust to ask for money for legal reasons or to travel home—things most people wouldn’t think twice about. And the scariest part? Scammers only need mere seconds of someone's voice in order to clone it. Just one more reason to really think before answering the phone.
Protecting yourself from phone scams
Just knowing about the scams going around is helpful in protecting yourself, but there are other things you can do as well:
- Get on the list: If it’s available in your country, opt in or register for the "Do Not Call" list to reduce the number of unsolicited calls you receive. (However, many calls now originate from outside the country via phone number spoofing apps, so unfortunately this list isn’t as useful as it once was.)
- Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to ask for a caller’s name, contact information, or a call-back number. If it’s legitimate, they should have issue in providing this information to you.
- Don’t trust Caller ID: While great to use for screening calls from your boss or your nosy aunt, caller ID can be spoofed by scammers. Don’t rely on what the caller ID says alone to consider a call legitimate or not.
- Check your balance: As with any spam or possible fraudulent activity, it’s best to keep an eye on your financial statements, like your bank and credit card statements, for unauthorized charges. The sooner you spot something, the easier it will be to handle it.
- Spread the news: Let your friends, family, and everyone around you know about the phone scams you come across. The more people are informed, the less likely they are to fall victim.
- Report anything sus: Receive a suspicious call? Make sure to report it to your local authorities and the applicable government agency responsible for handling these scams.
What to do if you’ve received a suspicious phone call
We recommend never giving personal or bank information over the phone, unless you know the legitimacy of the caller. Here are some steps to take to protect yourself and others.
1) Contact your telephone service provider to see if they're able to block calls from this number. Some mobile phone operating systems allow you to do this through contact settings as well.
2) Contact your state Attorney General to file a consumer complaint about these calls, as well as file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. To learn more about telephone fraud and report telephone fraud, go to www.ftc.gov/phonefraud.
3) Register your phone number on the national Do Not Call Registry - from the number you wish to register:
- For United States: at www.DoNotCall.gov, or by calling 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236)
Sign up for LifeLock for added peace of mind. You’ll have financial coverage, 24/7 support, and many other useful protection tools available to help.
Technology is advancing, and scammers are evolving right along with it. But by understanding how this scam and others work, and by taking proactive steps to protect yourself, you may reduce the risk of falling victim to these fraudulent schemes. Just remember to always be cautious when answering unknown calls, and never share any personal information before verifying the legitimacy of the caller. Staying vigilant is your best defense against phone scams in this digital age. And if an unknown caller asks, “can you hear me?”, just go ahead and hang up to be safe.