Phone scam targets individual consumers

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Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

The UT Police Department warned the community last week about a growing phone scam that makes someone a victim by saying one word — “yes.”

Individuals will get a call from someone who will almost immediately ask “Can you hear me?” If the individual answers “yes,” the scammer will record their response and use the agreement to sign the individual up for a service or product, later producing the recorded “yes” response as your agreement to submit a payment. The Better Business Bureau reported that in the last few days of January, more than half of the reports to their Scam Tracker have been about this scam.

“This is a huge scam going around,” UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said. “It’s a serious thing to have someone take that recording and call back and say, “You agreed to this, and we have it on record. We want students to talk to their friends and family about it … and spread the word.”

According to the BBB, the scam has been used in the past to coerce businesses into purchasing supplies or advertisements that they never ordered but is now targeting individual consumers. The scammers usually call about vacation packages, cruises and other big items. So far, the scam has found its way through Columbus, Ohio, Chicago, Seattle, New York and other large cities.

The BBB Scam Tracker has reports of the “Can you hear me?” phone scam occurring in the Austin area, some near the campus area. Most reports in the BBB Scam Tracker from Jan. 1 said the caller was asking about cruise rooms and vacation packages.

While she hasn’t received a “Can you hear me?” call, Carly Weiner, textiles and apparel sophomore, said she has received a phone call from a scammer in the past. Weiner said she thinks college students are easy targets for phone scams because they are often miseducated on the details of their own finances.

“I think the primary targets are young college students like myself, who may not yet entirely understand their financial situation,” Weiner said. “I think it’s easy to buy into scams when it’s personal.”

Mathematics junior Juan Lozano has likewise not received a “Can you hear me?” call, but has received a scam phone call in the past. Lozano said he thinks part of the reason individuals often fall for phone scams is because individuals are less likely to be distrustful when the interaction isn’t face to face.  

“People who are not already overtly suspicious will actually place their confidence in whatever authority or trustworthy person they perceive to be on the other end of the line,” Lozano said. “It’s a real dilemma, because we don’t want to live in a world full of paranoia … but by being so optimistic you do actually open yourself to these sorts of scams. I guess the thing is that you have to learn to be very situationally optimistic.”

To avoid being scammed, the BBB recommends using caller-ID and avoiding answering calls from unknown numbers. If a caller asks “Can you hear me?” or any other question that can be answered with yes or no, hang up. Additionally, the BBB recommends joining the Do Not Call Registry and regularly checking bank accounts and statements.