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PHONE FRAUD

Just say ‘no’ to scam callers, or hang up

Don’t say ‘yes’ to  ‘can you hear me?’

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    Local Better Business Bureau president Richard Eppstein says a recent scam involves simply getting residents to say 'yes' into a recorder.

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    Eppstein

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If the phone rings and an anonymous caller asks an innocuous question requiring a “Yes” answer, you likely are being scammed, says the Better Business Bureau of Northwestern Ohio and Southeastern Michigan.

“I’ve talked to so many people who have had these calls. They’re very sheepish about it because they fell for it,” said Richard Eppstein, local BBB President.

This problem has occurred in northwest Ohio, Mr. Eppstein said, although he’s not aware yet of fraudulent charges resulting from the calls. The idea is the caller would use a recording of your “yes” with a different question that seems like you have authorized a charge to a credit card or phone bill. Mr. Eppstein said such a charge could be from $4.98 to $495.

Here’s how the scam works: The phone rings and a distracted woman caller begins by apologizing and saying, “I’m having some problems with my headset. I think it’s fixed now. Can you hear me?”

Since there is no problem with the volume, tone, or clarity of her voice, most people automatically answer “Yes,” Mr. Eppstein said. “You don’t realize it’s a recorded message. Just by reflex people say, “Of course, yes.’”

But the caller is actually a device recording your voice answering in the affirmative. Once you say “Yes,” the call ends abruptly or a sales pitch begins.

“What we’ve learned is that, indeed, it may be connected to one of these cruise lines or travel packages,” Mr. Eppstein said. “But we’re also getting some very curious reports from other industries, that whoever’s doing this may be marketing your “yes” recording. That is, marketing it to other vendors who then put a charge on your phone bill based on this response.”

The scammers use service providers, or service brokers, who work with phone companies, he said. The scammer tells the broker that a charge has been authorized by the customer, and the broker tells the phone company who puts it on the bill.

A phone company will usually remove a disputed charge that was illegally authorized, but many consumers don’t examine their phone bills closely, he added.

Bottom line, he is not sure what the scammers’ ultimate game is.

But, the area BBB president said, the organization’s chapters are reporting incidents of these calls from all over North America.

Caller ID is ineffective because scammers can fake or “spoof” a call’s origin, making it seem like it’s from your area code, the BBB said.

“We recommend that if you get a call from an unknown number, when you answer the phone and they ask, ‘Can you hear me?’ or some other open-ended question where you say, ‘Yes’, that you just hang up,” Mr. Eppstein said.

Also, for now, check your phone bills closely, he added.

“The one place people don’t seem to examine much is the phone bill. It’s a favorite place to stick a phony charge,” he said. “So we caution people to examine all of their charges. In many cases, nothing will happen but the only thing you can do is be vigilant.

“The thing is, they may not do anything right away. They may wait a few months,” Mr. Eppstein said. “If you’re not vigilant, they’ll find new ways to cheat you.”

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.

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