'Can you hear me?': New phone scam tricks you into answering 'yes'

From encrypted passwords to padlocked doors, Canadians will go to extreme lengths to avoid scammers. Now it may not be safe to pick up the phone.

'If you don't recognize the number, don't answer,' spokesman with Better Business Bureau warns

Canadians are being warned to watch out for a new phone scam that uses audio recordings to dupe unwitting consumers out of cash. (Shutterstock/Gajus)

From encrypted passwords to padlocked doors, Canadians will go to extreme lengths to avoid scammers.

Now it may not be safe to pick up the phone.

A new scam relies on your voice to answer a simple question: "Can you hear me now"? The scammers try to bait callers into answering "yes."

Anti-fraud agencies say that simple acknowledgment can be used to make it sound as if you signed on for a purchase or service.

"They're trying to get a recording of you saying 'yes,'" said Ron Mycholuk, a spokesman with the Better Business Bureau of Central and Northern Alberta.

"They're going to take that recorded 'yes,' play around with that audio and make it seem to you, or a representative of a business, that you have paid for some advertising, a cruise or a big ticket item, and send you the bill." 

'Don't fall into the trap'

In the past, the scam normally targeted businesses in an effort to rope them into office supply purchases they did not order. But it appears the scam is now targeting consumers.

"They're going to call you back later, after sending you an invoice that may be in arrears," said Mycholuk. "And they're going to prove it to you with that doctored recording.

"And some people are going to be scared and pay the bill."

Reports of the new phone fraud first surfaced in the United States and recently emerged in Canada.

Though the BBB has yet to receive any reports about the phone scam in the Edmonton region, more than 2,000 complaints have been lodged across North America, Mycholuk said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

Anti-fraud agencies in B.C. received their first round of complaints this month, noting that the U.S had been inundated with the "new twist on a phone scam that can be very tricky to avoid."

"Currently, over 70 per cent of the scams reported to Scam Tracker in the U.S. are this scam, so they are hitting a lot of people," Evan Kelly, a BBB spokesperson in B.C., said in a statement. "Our Scam Tracker in B.C. has just received the first few complaints, so we just want to warn the public that this is now starting to happen in our area."

Some skeptics have questioned the validity of the scam, specifically whether the caller could authorize credit card charges in another person's name simply by acquiring a voice recording. To make the scam work, the caller would need additional personal and credit card information.

In a followup interview on Tuesday, Mycholuk said the Better Business Bureau knows that people have been targeted by the scam, which is similar to previous approaches where businesses were invoiced for products or services based on recordings that had often been doctored.

The bureau hasn't been called by any complainants who admit they've lost money with this scam, he said, but has heard from many people who have received "Can-you-hear-me" calls.

"We only recently have started to receive inquiries about this scam in Alberta, so there will a time delay depending on how the information is used," he said. "This is the first case that we've heard of with this scam targeting citizens, not businesses."

Mycholuk said the business bureau wanted to warn people.

"We don't yet know where this scam will proceed to, and the best way we can educate people about any sort of scams is information," he said. "But it's also about educating people on where and how their information is being used and shared online by various companies."

Mycholuk advised consumers to screen all incoming calls, report any suspicious activity and ensure their names are added to the no-call registry.

If you believe you may have fallen for the scam, contact your bank and credit card companies to flag your accounts, and file a scam report with your local business bureau office. 

The best way to prevent being victimized is to simply hang up, Mycholuk said.

"If you don't recognize the number, don't answer. And if you do pick up, and they instantly start asking, 'Can you hear me? Are you there?' Don't say anything. It's fishy, don't fall into the trap."


Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.

With files from Tanara Mclean