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The truth about the 'Can you hear me?' scam

It might not be as rampant as previously thought.

You've probably gotten the call. It starts with a question like, "Are you a homeowner?" or "Can you hear me?"

The point of these questions, it turns out, might be to get you to say, "Yes."

According to some reports, your "yes" could then be used to sign you up for a service you didn't ask for and -- should you protest -- the scammer will then playback your verbal agreement to intimidate you. This scam has previously targeted businesses but is now allegedly going after individuals.

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Should you be worried?

The Detroit Free Press reports the Better Business Bureau has fielded complaints from 62 people.Wisconsin's BBB says 50 people have reported receiving such calls. CBS News reports that authorities in Pennsylvania and Virginia have issued warning about the phone scam.

In none of the reports, however, has an individual been scammed out of any money.

Snopes, the urban myth debunking site, classifies the scam as unproven because it has yet to "to identify any scenario under which a scammer could authorize charges in another person's name simply by possessing a voice recording of that person saying 'yes,' without also already possessing a good deal of personal and account information for that person, and without being able to reproduce any other form of verbal response from that person."

Still, don't say 'yes'

Even if the scammer doesn't use your "yes" answer to attempt to sign you up for an unwanted service or product, your "yes" can still be valuable because just by answering you have proven that your phone number is active and that you will answer calls from unknown numbers. The scammer can then turn around and sell your number and others as sales leads to other solicitors of questionable repute.

How to avoid being scammed

To avoid being scammed or -- perhaps, worse -- having your number added to additional robocall lists, follow these tips from the BBB:

  • Do not answer calls from numbers you do not recognize (duh).
  • If you do answer and are asked questions that seem to be fishing for a "yes" or "no" answer, do not respond and hang up immediately.
  • Never give out any personal information over the phone when you are unsure of the caller (also obvious but worth repeating).
  • Make a note of the number and report it to BBB Scam Tracker to help warn others.
  • As always, check your bank and credit card statements regularly for unauthorized charges.

You can also report suspicious or unwanted calls to the FTC's National Do Not Call Registry and register your home and mobile numbers for free to avoid or at least lessen the frequency with which you receive unsolicited calls.