THE CONSUMER CAUTION CORNER
Phone fraudsters record consumers’ voice responses
This week, the Office of the Attorney General’s “Consumer Caution Corner” seeks to urgently inform, caution, and educate all Commonwealth consumers and businesses about a new type of advanced predatory phone scam known as the “Can You Hear Me” scam.
How does the “Can You Hear Me” scam work?
The Federal Communications Commission is alerting consumers to be on the lookout for scam callers seeking to get victims to say the word “yes” during a call and later use a recording of the response to authorize unwanted charges on the victim’s utility or credit card account.
According to complaints received by the FCC and public news reports, the fraudulent callers impersonate representatives from organizations that provide a service and may be familiar to the person receiving the call, such as a mortgage lender or utilities provider, to establish a legitimate reason for trying to reach the consumer or business.
The scam begins when the fraudster calls and a person answers the phone. The fraudster then asks the person “Can you hear me?” Naturally, the person responds by saying “yes” which the fraudster records in order to obtain a “voice signature.” After obtaining the voice signature, the fraudsters use the voice signature to impersonate the consumer or business in order to authorize fraudulent charges via telephone.
What should I do to protect myself?
• If you receive this type of call: Immediately hang up!
• If you have already responded to this type of call: Review all of your statements such as those from your bank, credit card lender, or telephone company for unauthorized charges. If you notice unauthorized charges on these and other types of statements, you have likely been a victim of “cramming.”
• Anyone who believes they have been targeted by this scam: Should quickly report the incident to the OAG (contact details below) and FCC Consumer Help Center (https://www.fcc.gov/consumers).
In efforts to best protect all Commonwealth consumers and businesses from becoming victims of the “Can You Hear Me” scam and all other types of phone scams (especially during tax season), the OAG strongly urges and respectfully requests that all consumers and businesses:
1) Be on the lookout: Act cautiously if you are going to answer calls from unknown numbers (see “Please Note” section for considerations). We also must be mindful that our time difference relative to the continental U.S. may subject us to receiving these calls when we are tired in the early morning or late at night.
2) Spread the word: Spread the word to your families and friends and/or through social media.
3) Follow the FCC’s General Tips on How to Avoid Unwanted Calls and Scams:
a. Do not answer calls from unknown numbers. Let them go to voicemail***.
i. ***Please Note: Unfortunately, here in the CNMI, one of the main cell phone providers does not offer Commonwealth consumers the basic cell phone service of voicemail services, which the FCC here justly provides a tip assuming voicemail services are part of nearly every cell phone package, which is the case in the continental U.S. Moreover, just like voicemail services in the CNMI, one of the main cell phone providers here does not offer Commonwealth consumers the basic cell phone service of “call waiting.” In considering how to best apply this fundamental FCC tip to avoid being scammed in light of these service limitations, it is difficult to give a hard rule of thumb. On one hand, although most fraudulent calls come from unknown numbers, consumers also receive very important calls from unknown numbers (e.g., hospital, etc.). In sum, it is hard to say whether to completely avoid answering calls from unknown numbers in light of many Commonwealth consumers not having voicemail services, which would act as an easy fix to this predicament.
b. If you answer and the caller (often a recording) asks you to hit a button to stop receiving calls, just hang up! Scammers often use these tricks to identify, and then target, live respondents.
c. If you receive a scam call, write down the number and file a complaint with the OAG and FCC so we can help identify and take appropriate actions to help consumers targeted by illegal callers.
d. Ask your phone service provider if it offers a robocall blocking service. If it does not offer this service, encourage your phone service provider to offer one. You can also visit the FCC’s website (https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/stop-unwanted-calls-texts-and-faxes) for information and resources on available robocall blocking tools to help reduce unwanted calls.
e. Consider registering all of your telephone numbers in the National Do Not Call Registry (https://www.donotcall.gov/).
The FCC is the federal agency that implements and enforces the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the FCC reviews all consumer complaints. The FCC will continue, when appropriate, to issue consumer alerts based on those complaints and other public information related to possible scams and frauds in hopes of informing and empowering consumers.
Each week, the OAG’s Consumer Protection Education Program shares Federal Trade Commission and/or FCC publications that provide consumers and businesses with the “know-how” to identify and protect themselves from unfair trade practices and marketplace schemes.
If you would like to file a consumer complaint, pick up a form at the OAG (on Capital Hill) or request one by email from email@example.com. After completing the consumer complaint, submit it by email or in-person.
We cannot act as your private attorney. If you need legal assistance, we will recommend that you contact a private attorney or legal aid organization. We cannot give legal advice or act as your private attorney.
Michael J. Cyganek is consumer counsel of the Office of the Attorney General.