You’ve likely been in countless phone calls with friends or family where someone wanders into a dead zone and the call starts breaking up. You or the other person might have said some version of “Can you hear me?” until a consistent connection is reestablished.
But what if that’s the first thing you hear when you answer a phone call? Several VERIFY readers asked if this is a trick used by scammers.
Do scammers call people and ask “Can you hear me?”
- Office of the Minnesota Attorney General
- Washington state Office of the Attorney General
- Military Consumer, a joint initiative by the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Defense
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
- Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation
- Better Business Bureau (BBB)
Yes, scammers do call people and ask “Can you hear me?”
WHAT WE FOUND
Robocallers and spam callers do try to get people to respond over the phone, and commonly use yes-or-no questions like “Can you hear me?” to do so.
These calls can be used to confirm that your number is active so future telemarketers or scammers can call you.
“By responding ‘yes,’ people notify robocallers that their number is an active telephone number that can be sold to other telemarketers for a higher price,” the Office of the Minnesota Attorney General says. “This then leads to more unwanted calls.”
If you respond to a robocall in any way, whether that’s verbally or by pushing a button on your phone, it will probably lead to more robocalls, Military Consumer, a joint initiative by the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Defense, says. Those future robocalls are likely to be scams, it adds.
In the event the robocall asks you to press a number — typically to speak to a live operator or to “stop” future calls — pressing a number just tells the caller that you answer your phone and listen to the recordings, the Washington state Office of the Attorney General says.
Engaging with scammers over other mediums sets you up for more shady communications in the future, too. For example, a scammer will also mark your phone number as active if you respond to one of their text messages, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) says.
Scammers don’t get money unless they find real people who will engage with them. If the scammer wants to trick people by phone, they need people who will both answer the call and then talk to them.
Other questions the robocalls may ask to bait out a response include “Are you there,” “Is this the lady of the house,” or “Is this [your name]?” the Office of the Minnesota Attorney General says. The BBB says the recording might even start with the sound of something fumbling around and a voice claiming it has a problem with its headset before asking any questions.
Multiple consumers reported to the BBB that the callers then hung up as soon as the person answered the question. When those people redialed the number, they found that no such number was in service.
This type of scam call is designed to test the accuracy of your number and your level of engagement, SkyOne Federal Credit Union says. Once you’ve responded to a question, scammers know that you’re willing to answer a call from an unknown number and you won’t hang up as soon as they hear a stranger’s voice.
Can scammers record your voice and use your “yes” answer to authorize fraudulent purchases?
There is no evidence that scammers can do this.
In 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) warned that scammers were recording people’s answers to “Can you hear me?” calls to authorize fraudulent purchases. They based this on consumer complaints and public news reports.
But there were no publicly confirmed reports of consumers losing money in this way.
“There have not been any reported instances of consumers losing money to this scam, and it is unclear as to what kind of payments could be authorized by voice alone,” the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation said.
The BBB issued a warning for the same kind of scam in August 2023. However, the BBB noted that no consumers have reported money loss so far, but it’s “unclear how the scams will play out over time or if the targets will be victimized later.”
“A single recording of you saying ‘yes’ would not be sufficient to authorize a transaction,” the American Bankers’ Association told VERIFY in an email. “There are several layers of security in place to authenticate an individual when logging into their account or the bank’s mobile app that would have to be defeated first including knowing username, password, a biometric such as Face ID or fingerprint, and in most instances a multi-factor authentication step such as receiving a one-time use security code before you’d be even able to consider making a transaction.”
If a scammer already has all of that information, they probably have an easier way to steal your money than making a transaction that requires voice authorization.
How do I prevent these calls?
The first thing you can do is join the Do Not Call Registry to cut down on telemarketing and sales calls, the BBB says.
“This may not help scammers since they don’t bother to pay attention to the law, but you’ll get fewer calls overall,” the BBB says. “That may help you more quickly notice the ones that could be fraudulent.”
The Do Not Call Registry is a list that tells telemarketers what numbers not to call, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says. Companies can still call you if you’ve recently done business with them or you’ve given them written permission to call you.
“If you’ve already added your phone number to the Do Not Call Registry and are still getting a lot of unwanted calls, odds are the calls are from scammers,” the FTC says.
If you receive a “Can you hear me?” call, you should report it to the FTC, even if you’re not on the Do Not Call Registry.