Phone scams: 5 tips to protect against the "Can you hear me clearly?" fraud

It can start with a question as innocent as, “Can you hear me clearly?” and end with thieves using your words against you to steal your money. How can you protect yourself against this latest spin on phone scams that’s growing fast? These 5 tips could help.

Phone scams: 5 tips to protect against the

Robocalls: what are they?

Robocalls (or automatic calls) are generated by feeding lists of phone numbers into machines known as Automatic Dialing-Announcing Devices (ADAD). Robocalls aren't new, usually harmless, and you’ve probably received them before, including:

  • Reminders from the doctor’s office
  • Announcements about school closings
  • Calls to say your taxi has arrived

Nonetheless, you must always be alert because many robocalls have the potential to be phone scams.

When do robocalls cross the line?

Among the many fraudulent types of robocalls making the rounds are the “good news” ones announcing you’ve won a prize, such as a “free” cruise or resort stay. They often push services or products you don’t need, want, or that may not even exist.

In the case of vishing, a victim may first receive a robocall saying suspicious activity was detected in one of his or her bank accounts. Urged to call a fake number, the victim is tricked into revealing personal information, which the scammer uses to steal that person's identity.

Why is this new robocall scam so much riskier?

Compared to the kinds of phone scams that begin with, for example, a silent call or a phishing email, with robocall scams the damage may already be done before you realize what’s happening.

How does the risk compare?

Unlike silent calls, where it’s recommended you stay quiet and immediately hang up, and phishing emails where the best strategy is to ignore them outright, robocall phone scams trick you into answering an “innocent” question while recording your voice – often without your knowledge. Even experts agree it's tough not to get caught off-guard.

What’s more, with silent calls and phishing emails if you sense something is “off”, you have an opportunity to pause and ask yourself if you believe you’re being tricked – and stop before it goes any further.

How do robocall phone scams work?

It could start off as simply as a recorded voice asking, “Can you hear me clearly?” (Although sometimes it will be a live person speaking to you.) When you respond “yes” because you heard the question, your reply is captured without your knowledge or consent.

As a result, the scammers now have a recording of you saying “yes”. The scammers then insert it into a doctored audio recording as “proof” that you’ve “agreed” to buy a big-ticket item or service. Afterwards, they send an invoice in the mail which you may only receive days or weeks later.

  • When you refuse to pay or argue that you never made any such purchase, the scam artist may potentially use the fake recording against you to “confirm” the purchase agreement.

Scammers are getting “smarter”

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), getting snared by this phone scam is becoming easier as thieves use more subtle tricks to bait callers. That includes everything from adding background noises to their recordings so it sounds like you’re talking to a real person, to asking "harmless" questions like:

  • “Do you have a dog?”
  • “Do you own a home computer?”
  • “Are you over 18?”

How can you protect yourself?

1. Register on the National Do Not Call List (DNCL)

As a first step to block unwanted calls register on the DNCL. It's managed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Although it won’t stop them outright, it will reduce how many you get because the use of robocalls is highly restricted by the CRTC’s Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules.

2. Regularly check your bank and credit card statements

Despite how careful you are with personal information the Better Business Bureau (BBB) cautions a scammer could already have such details as your credit card numbers. That’s why you should check your bank and credit card statements like clockwork and look for irregularities.

  • The sooner you spot any unauthorized charges and report them to the authorities, the more likely your money will be recovered.

3. Ignore calls from numbers you don’t recognize

Let your answering machine respond to numbers that are unfamiliar to you. If the caller is a legitimate contact, he or she will likely leave a message.

  • Should you accidentally pick up and someone asks, “Can you hear me?” or you sense the caller is pressuring you to say “yes” or “no”, don’t say a word and hang up.

4. Be wary and ask lots of questions

If an unknown caller leaves a message that sounds suspicious, first check with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) toll-free at 1-888-495-8501 for more information before you do anything else.

  • Regardless of the message, don’t feel pressured to call back if you believe you are being scammed. No reputable business, institution or even the Government of Canada would ever resort to bullying tactics to resolve an issue, much less leave a threatening phone message.

5. Safeguard your personal information

If you're unsure who the caller is, don’t give him or her any identifying personal information. What’s more, never give a complete stranger unrestricted remote access to your computer.

  • Be wary about participating in phone “surveys”. There are known instances of scammers posing as pollsters to secretly record victims’ “yes” replies.

What if you’ve been victimized by a robocall scam

First document as much detail as possible:

  • The phone number on which you received the robocall, and if it’s a business or residential line
  • The date, time and telephone number as it appeared on your phone’s caller ID
  • The name that was given to you by the person to whom you may have spoken
  • Any other information you have that relates to the call

Next contact the authorities without delay:

  • Contact your local police and file a report as soon as possible
  • Alert all companies with whom you have accounts to let them know
  • Report the incident to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
  • Get in touch with Canada’s two credit bureaus (Equifax and TransUnion) and request a “Fraud Alert” be placed on your credit file. Also get copies of your credit report from them, review it, and tell them if you discover any irregularities
  • Continue to monitor your accounts and notify any financial institutions of suspicious charges

Be aware of this new “Can you hear me?” phone scam

Although the CRTC has been targeting telemarketers who illegally use robocalls since January 2015, it's still crucial to protect yourself at home since that’s where scammers seem to be focusing their efforts.

The thieves profiting from this "Can you hear me?" fraud don’t care about age or financial status. Anyone with money is fair game. For that reason, you should share this article with the people you care about to help ensure they don't fall victim to these kinds of phone scams.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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