There are few things I hate more than the sound of my own ring tone at noon on a Monday.
To be fair, I hate the sound of my ring tone at all other times, too. Since settling into my quarantine life, I’ve really gotten used to a minimal amount of social stimulation. A ringing phone sounds like a baseball going through a picture window at this point.
But at noon on a Monday when I don’t have a prescription for pick-up or a pet due for a wash and cut the next day? There is only one type of person who calls me. And that’s generously assuming it’s a human being.
When I hear that sound at noon on a Monday, I start making gentleman’s bets with myself.
It’s the police.
No, it’s the “Social Security Officer.”
Ooh, no, it won’t be the Officer this time—it’ll be the Agent.
Maybe I’m feeling especially lucky and it’ll be the guy who really just wants to give me deals on medical equipment.
No, I definitely won a free cruise today.
I’m not feeling particularly special or lucky today—today, I thought, I’m going to play it safe and guess that my Social Security number has been suspended. That’s what it’s usually been lately.
But I was wrong. Good thing it was only a gentleman’s bet. I would hate to lose the ten dollar bill I found in my jacket pocket to the responsible part of myself who would put it in the piggy bank.
I daresay I was almost excited after I picked up the phone. It’s a little embarrassing to admit certain types of scam calls make me excited, but, hey. We’ll just chalk it up to the quarantine lifestyle.
The call I received was exciting because I hadn’t considered it for several years. It’s been about three or four years since I’ve read anything about it. Even then, reports about it were dubious at best. It was a call everyone was getting in 2017, but despite the panic headlines, there were just as many questioning whether or not the scam existed at all.
When I answered the phone, I didn’t get a “hello,” “hi, this is–,” or “is this–?”
The first thing I heard was, “can you hear me?”
Part of the reason I answered with more of a grin than an audible response is the caller caught me in the middle of a vicious battle with my post-holiday writer’s block. Little did the caller know he was doing me a real solid in the middle of the day.
But part of it was also getting that verbal response is the goal of the caller’s game. In 2017, this scam was known as the “Just Say Yes” scam.
This phone scam is actually pretty interesting because although we have a detailed rundown of how it works and what the caller is trying to gain from asking a weird question as a greeting, there are very few documented cases of this scam occurring. If you Google it, the second and third search results are from CNET and Snopes calling these calls a potential hoax.
Here’s how they’re supposed to work:
You receive a call and the caller asks, “can you hear me?” Or greets you with some other question with a yes or no answer.
You say, “yes.” And then the caller immediately hangs up.
The caller asked you a question to get you to say, “yes” because they were recording the call. They now have a recording of you saying, “yes.”
From there, the caller will attempt to gain access to your financial accounts by using the recording of your voice saying a confirmation word. This could result in new accounts appearing in your name or fraudulent charges showing up on your bank statement.
What isn’t up for debate is that these strange calls were all the rage several years ago. Tons of people reported receiving this weird call—and I, myself, received it just now. “Can you hear me?” And then click. There isn’t a question that it’s something that happens.
What IS questionable is whether this call is being made to record your voice and gain access to your personal information.
Back when this “scam” was a hot topic, I even thought it was a weird premise. It’s possible, sure, but…does it make sense?
Think about it: how many customer service phone trees do you use that rely on voice recognition to determine your identity? It would nice to not play 20 Questions every time I need to call my bank, but unfortunately, I’ve had to provide at least three pieces of critical information to prove who I am since the day I had my own bank account.
And that’s another thing. Knowing someone would at least have to provide my birth date and the last four numbers of my Social Security number or account number (probably both) to gain access to my account, what would having a recording of me saying one word do?
So you have me saying, “yes.” What about the other hundred words you’re going to need to use? The call would have to be in two different voices.
I’ve never been sure what having a recording of me saying one word would accomplish. My best guess is because financial institutions often record calls for quality control, it may be a defensive measure in the event the recording of that call is used as evidence to prove fraud. In that case, it might be a good thing to have my actual voice on the line giving someone permission to look into my private information.
But given the fraudster would use far more words than just “yes” to access my accounts, it still seems a little far-fetched.
Nevertheless, there ARE reports—albeit, very few—of people receiving this call and experiencing some kind of fraud soon after the call.
A man in Washington reported receiving this call and finding fraudulent hotel charges on his bank statement several days later. Though he is convinced the call was the source of the mystery charge, there’s little in the way of direct evidence to link the call to the charge. And it still doesn’t explain how the scammer could have made the charge without also getting the victim’s financial details.
According to the director of Consumer Federation of America, it’s possible the people who receive these calls have already had their information stolen. The call might be occurring only because a scammer has already managed to steal your identity.
But if that’s true, I still don’t entirely understand why a scammer would need to go to these lengths to access your financials. Unless they also have a recording of you saying all of your information on top of every other word in the English language, it seems a little pointless. Having had my credit card maxed out by a thief in a matter of hours just weeks ago, I can attest to the fact that nobody needs a recording of your voice to buy 10,000 followers on Instagram on your dime.
And, yes. Someone stole my credit card number to buy Instagram followers. These are strange times we live in.
All my questions aside, did I answer the question with a yes or no? Absolutely not. I’d much rather protect my bank account from any future would-be social media influencers than be right about this scam not making much sense. At the end of the day, I can’t use smugness to pay my light bill. If I could, I’d be cruising around in an Aston Martin right now.
The fact remains this call is still happening and we aren’t entirely sure why. And it’s happening enough that the Better Business Bureau just recently put out warning. It may not make a lot of sense, but as it concerns your money and identity, being safe is always better than being sorry.
At the very least, these calls could be nothing more than a scammer checking for a live phone number. Every time you answer a scam call, you’ve just let an entire network of scammers know you’ll answer your phone. See here if you want to know how THAT works out for you in the end. I’m STILL getting texts because of that little investigation.
The best thing to do is refuse to pick up the phone from an unknown caller. And if you do? Don’t ever say “yes” or “no” to someone asking you a question before they even greet you. I recommend a hearty and cheerful “mmm-hmmm” if you absolutely must speak.