Consumer Alert

One word on the phone could cost you dearly

Say yes to an extra piece of cake. Say yes to a friend who needs help. Say yes to a chance to travel somewhere new. But if you get a call from an unknown number and a stranger asks if you can hear him, definitely do not say yes.

Police departments and consumer advocates are reporting the spread of an insidious new phone scam that hinges on that one little word. A person posing as a telemarketer or pollster will ask a seemingly innocuous question such as, “Can you hear me OK?” or “Are you over 18?” or “Do you have a home computer?”

The goal is to get a recording of you saying “yes.” Then they will, for example, use your verbal consent to bill you for a cruise you never booked, or authorize bogus charges on your credit card. If you challenge the demand for payment, they can play back your recorded yes, claiming you had agreed to the charge. They hope to confuse or scare you into paying.


The Better Business Bureau first became aware of this ploy last year, when the scammers were largely targeting business numbers, spokeswoman Paula Fleming said. In recent weeks, however, the number of reported calls has been growing sharply, and the con artists have increasingly targeted individual consumers. The scam accounted for around two-thirds of the incidents reported last week to the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker, which collects reports of attempted scams across North America.

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So how can you make sure you don’t fall victim to this subtle rip-off?

First, don’t answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number. And check with your phone carrier to see if it offers a robocall-blocking service that can flag suspicious numbers and even prevent many of these calls from making it through. If you do end up on the phone, avoid saying the word “yes.” Try specific, full sentences — “I hear you clearly,” or “I do own a computer.” Better yet, hang up as soon as you sense the caller is fishing for a yes.

If you fear you have fallen for the scam, don’t be embarrassed — professional fraudsters know their business and can trick even the savviest. Instead, take action. Ask your bank and credit card companies to flag your accounts — and then check them daily to make sure no unexpected charges appear.

Also, help authorities crack down on the scammers by reporting any incident to local police and the Federal Trade Commission at

Have a consumer question or complaint? Contact Sarah Shemkus at