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When robocallers pretend to be real

Watch out for “Can you hear me now?” robot telemarketers, the Federal Trade Commission warns.

 

You pick up the phone and hear a pause, then a young woman speaks.

“Excuse me, I had a problem with my headset. My name is Emily and you have won a trip.” 

Sounds legit, but as one woman pointed out on Facebook, “Emily” called four different cell phones in the same house—with the exact same headset issue!

“Emily” is just a recording, one of many computer-generated telemarketers who try to get something out of you—your money, your business, even your opinion to bolster a political survey.

The latest robocall getting attention is the “Can you hear me now?” robot caller. The Federal Trade Commission put out a warning Tuesday on this illegal scheme, saying hundreds of people have reported getting the call.

 

The phrase “Can you hear me now?” was made popular by Verizon Wireless ads starting in 2002. Photo credit: JeepersMedia via Foter.com / CC BY

 

What does he want?

The robot wants your attention, according to the FTC.

“If you respond in any way, it will probably just lead to more robocalls—and they’re likely to be scams,” the agency said in its warning.

But the scam could be even more devious, warned the Better Business Bureau in January.

The robot could be trying to get you to say “yes” so it can record your voice and use it against you later, the BBB said.

“After the introduction, the recording will ask if you can hear the caller clearly,” the BBB said. “If you answer ‘yes’ there’s a possibility that the scam artist behind the phone call has recorded you and will use your agreement to sign you up for a product or service and then demand payment. If you refuse, the caller may produce your recorded ‘yes’ response to confirm your purchase agreement.”

The BBB said scammers used this trick on businesses in the past, but may be calling homes and cell phones now instead.

Is it really happening?

Some have questioned the seriousness of the crime, saying they have not seen reports of anyone who actually lost money after saying “yes” to the latest round of “Can you hear me?” calls.

“The ‘Can you hear me?’ scam for now seems to be more a suggestion of a hypothetical crime scheme than a real one that is actually robbing victims of money,” concluded the fact-checking website Snopes.

Still, businesses have indeed reported callers trying to use their positive affirmations against them.

One man said he paid multiple fake invoices to a shady company that tricked him with calls and mailings, according to Canada’s Fraud Awareness for Commercial Targets campaign.

When the victim questioned some of the billing, the shady company rep fought back.

“Then he said he had my voice recorded where I had agreed to the installment plan, and that he could play back the tape recording,” the victim reported.

 

Some scam operations used fake invoices & recordings of a victim saying ‘yes” to try to pressure victims into paying up, according to Canada’s FACT. Photo credit: miguelb via Foter.com / CC BY

 

The rep “played a recorded conversation back to me over the phone where my voice was saying ‘yes to a certain question — but the recording was such bad quality, I couldn’t even tell what I was saying ‘yes’ to,” the victim said. “I think it was just me confirming ‘yes’ to the address they had for us on file.”

The victim felt pressured by the company’s threats to damage his credit and eventually paid up.

Are they real?

You may have already talked to a robot telemarketer without even knowing it.

Modern robo-creations are programmed to carry on normal-sounding conversations.

“Samantha West” told people who asked that she was real during her calls about health care.

But Time Magazine reported that the robot telemarketer flunked other questions they put to her when she called their line in 2013.

“When asked ‘What vegetable is found in tomato soup?’ she said she did not understand the question,” Time reported. “When asked multiple times what day of the week it was yesterday, she complained repeatedly of a bad connection.”

You can listen to one of Samantha West’s calls here.

 

Computers can manipulate recorded human voices to respond to your questions in a lifelike way. Image via Pixabay

 

“You’re talking to a live person”

“Amanda” rang a blogger for “Museum Fatigue” in 2014, claiming to be doing a survey on children and the media.

The blogger thought she sounded a little strange, and recorded part of the call:

 

Me: “…I have a question.”

Amanda: “Uh huh.”

Me: “Are you a recording?”

Amanda: “Yeah, you are talking to a live person, but I’m using a computer for quality control purposes.”

Me: “Really? You’re not a computer”

Amanda: “Uh, no.”

 

Me: “…but you sound like a computer.”

Amanda: “Yeah, you are talking to a live person, but I’m using a computer for quality control purposes.”

Me: “What’s the weather like there?”

Amanda: “OK”

 

Me: “..but, are you a computer?”

Amanda: “Yeah, you are talking to a live person, but I’m using a computer for quality control purposes.”

Me: “So, what’s your name?”

Amanda: “Lifegiving moments, and my name is Amanda.”

Me: “Amanda, are you a computer?”

Amanda: “Yeah, you are talking to a live person, but I’m using a computer for quality control purposes.”

 

Museum Fatigue said Amanda called again and ultimately imploded, asking, “Hello, is Mike there?,” then “Hello, is Robert there?” and “Hello, is Randy there?” along with a long list of other names.

You can hear Amanda in action here.

Protect yourself

Though you may want to play with the robot, too, the FTC recommends just hanging up. Don’t answer questions, and even better, don’t answer  the call at all if you don’t recognize the number.

Other FTC recommendations:

—Contact your phone provider. Ask your phone provider what services they provide to block unwanted calls.

—Put your phone number on the Do Not Call registry. Access the registry online or by calling 1-888-382-1222. 

—Callers who don’t respect the Do Not Call rules are more likely to be crooks.

—File a complaint with the FTC. Report the experience online or call 1-877-382-4357.

 

Signing up for the FTC’s Do Not Call Registry may provide some relief from robocalls.

 

You can also try a call-blocking tool or service, if the idea of getting a call from Emily, Samantha or Amanda makes you weary.

For smart phones, NBC News suggested you check app reviews to see which app might work for you.

“For iOS try NoMoRobo. For Android try Privacy Star,” the NBC News report said.

And if you just have to answer the phone when you don’t recognize the number, prepare your list of questions only a human can answer to see if your telemarketer is real or robot.

 

Featured image: kuloser via Pixabay

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