This article appears in Spring Boomers magazine.
Telephone scams are nothing new, but here’s one with a twist. The phone rings. You answer, a moment passes and someone asks, “Can you hear me?”
Reports say that scammers are recording your “yes” and using it to authorize payment for products or services. Both the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission are warning people to stay silent and never answer “yes” to any questions on the telephone to people you don’t know.
The variety of scams a person can fall prey to is tremendous, from lottery and sweepstakes scams, to requests for money from people claiming to be relatives, “phishing” and “smishing,” and on and on.
“The fastest-growing scam in America is imposter scams. This is where the con man pretends to be someone or something he or she is not,” said Doug Shadel, AARP’s lead researcher on consumer fraud who also serves as the state director for AARP Washington.
“Examples include the fake IRS debt collector who calls and tells you that you owe the IRS money; the tech support scam, where a popup shows up on your computer and tells you that you’ve got a virus and must pay to remove it; or the grandparent scam, where a con man will call and pretend to be your grandchild who got arrested in a foreign country and needs $3,000 to get out of jail,” Shadel said.
While the “yes” or “can you hear me” scam was rumored to be sweeping the country, Shadel is not aware of any cases where such a trick resulted in a fake bank or credit card verification.
“Still, it is good to be cautious when someone calls and to not give them any information or do business with people you do not know on the phone,” Shadel said.
Keep your cool
When a person is in a heightened emotional state, it is easier for him or her to be scammed.
“Every con artist we have ever interviewed said the key trick they use is to get the victim into a heightened emotional state: extremely excited to win a new car or the lottery or extremely fearful because you owe back taxes, or troubled because your computer has a virus or you are afraid for your grandchild,” Shadel said.
Pause and think it over before deciding to buy something over the phone.
“If you feel your heart starting to beat faster or you start sweating with excitement, tell the person that you never make a buying decision at the time of the sales pitch and offer to take their number and call them back. This gives you time to cool off and make a rational decision. And if that decision, upon reflection, is to never call them back — so be it,” Shadel said.