The “adjust my headset” robocall scam; do not say “yes”!

In the past week this has happened almost every day to me: I’ll get a call at work, or on my cellphone, and when I say “hello,” nobody answers at first. I then say “hello” louder, and shortly a woman comes on saying, “Oh, I’m sorry, I was having trouble with my headset. Can you hear me now?” It sounds real, but if you say something, like “who are you?”, she doesn’t respond. It’s a trick call, clearly one meant to scam you or sell you something, but it’s nefarious. I’ve started shouting obscenities to the woman (who is actually a recording) before slamming down the phone, but I wonder if anybody else has experienced it. What are they selling?

It seems like a neat trick because it’s realistic, but it doesn’t take more than a few seconds to discover that it’s not a real person on the other end of the line, and so what’s the point?

Here’s the point. A bit of Googling turned up this, at Highya:

How the “Can you Hear Me” Scam Works:

“Your phone rings and the other person on the end of the line asks, ‘can you hear me?’” explained Lohman, a detective for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Thousand Oaks Division.

Typically, people will answer “yes.”

But that’s the exact answer these criminals are looking for. And with one little word, you can become a victim.

“The ‘yes’ response is referred to as a voice signature,” Lohman explained. “Companies will legitimately use this to show that you have agreed to a service, change or upgrade.”

However, the scammer will record your “yes” response, which allows them to authorize unwanted upgrades or services.

Scammers have become savvy with this crime, so be mindful of any question that prompts a “yes,” “sure,” or “okay” response. Some criminals might even go as far as editing your words to make it sound like you gave authorization.

“The ‘yes’ constitutes a verbal contract for additional services,” Lohman said. “It’s similar to clicking the ‘agree’ on a contract received via computer to accept additional services.”

But the scammer’s goal is to sell you products, upgrades or services you do not want, such as cruises, vacation packages, warranties or other big ticket items.

Here’s the scam I got:

However, there are ways to differentiate whether you’re receiving a call from a robot or an actual person.

Lohman learned first-hand.

“I got a call one time and it was silent for a second,” he recalled. “And then the person on the other line said, ‘oh, I’m sorry, I’m adjusting my headset’.”

The caller then went immediately into the sales pitch.

“As soon as it went into the sales pitch, I immediately hung up,” Lohman said. “I didn’t stay on the phone long enough to hear the pitch.”

If there’s a pause between you saying “hello” and the response from the caller, there’s a good chance it’s a scam. That’s because it takes a few brief moments for a computerized voice recognition system to know there’s someone on the other line.

“If you say hello and you just sit there and don’t interact and the other person continues to talk, it very well might be a scam,” Lohman said. “If I said hello, I would expect you to say hello back, like a typical conversation. I wouldn’t expect you to go into a sales pitch.”

This scam can also be detected by asking questions of the caller.

“If I start to talk and the caller on the other line is still talking over me, it’s a good chance it’s a robocall,” Lohman said.

Shouting obscenities works just as well.

64 Comments

  1. craigp
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I’ve heard of scams where they make calls from a particular number and there’s a charge to receive the calls. The longer they keep people on the line the more it costs. I don’t remember where I heard about it – it was years ago – and I suppose it could have been an urban myth.

  2. Posted February 16, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I have to say I’m suspicious of them actually wanting you to say “yes”. That’s not a contract agreement that would hold up in court, or that they, frankly, would care about. They need some way to charge you money, and a recording of you saying “yes” won’t cut it.

    The “adjust my headset” is just to gloss over the robo-call delay, which you get on robo calls for phone banks.

    Snopes calls it “unproven”.

    http://www.snopes.com/can-you-hear-me-scam/

    Don’t interact with them, but don’t panic if you say “yes”.

    • Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      I can’t understand how this could work either. A disembodied “yes” without a credit card or bank account number to debit is not likely to generate any revenue. I wonder if this is an urban legend.

    • eric
      Posted February 16, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      I disagree. This is going to b e like the Wells Fargo debacle. Yes absolutely the extra fees/services are illegal. But that doesn’t mean they won’t do it. As long as most people passively go along with the extras or even just request cancellation a few months later (which costs them nothing), they win. They only lose if they get sued for punitive damages, which only one out of every thousand or ten thousand victims is going to do.

      I’ve been receiving these calls and hanging up on them for some time. Didn’t know what they were, I just have little tolerance for being called by a machine. As soon as I know it’s not a person, I hang up.

      • Harrison
        Posted February 16, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        If a large, reputable company does this, it doesn’t matter if “one in a thousand” people actually want to take them to court over it. Some or another lawyer is going to see an opportunity to whip up a class action suit and will drag the other 999 into it.

        • eric
          Posted February 16, 2017 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

          And yet again, Wells Fargo. The fact that we law abiding citizens think a con will eventually be discovered and the perp fined into oblivion does not prevent either individuals or whole large corporations from trying such scams. Saying this “yes” scam will eventually be found out and stopped is no counter-argument to the point that someone may be using it to try and make a quick buck off of extra fees right now.

  3. Dave
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I remember when collect call carriers were popping up (90s, maybe?). The operator had to ask you which company you wanted to carry the collect call – as rates varied greatly, this was seen as a consumer protection. I read an article about a guy in TX that set up 4 companies called “whoever”, “it doesn’t matter”, “I don’t care” and “I don’t know”. he got a lot of business…and charged outrageous rates.

  4. Steve Zeoli
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Haven’t gotten those yet (at least I hope not). A common phone scam we get at the office is someone pretending to be from our copier company and asking to update the model and serial number. If you give it to them, they call back a few weeks later and pretend it is time to send you toner, which they then bill you for. The way I like to handle these scammers when they ask for the serial number is to tell them the copier is on the other floor, so it may take a minute or two, then I leave the phone off the hook and see how long it takes them to figure out I’m never coming back. This has the advantage of keeping them from calling someone else while they’re waiting for me.

  5. Posted February 16, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I work in this industry, and the biggest tell is the lack of any background noise and the “too professional” nature of the caller. One day they’re going to learn that a realistic robo-call will sound like a high-school drop-out with a slight murmur in the background and they won’t read the script like a radio commercial. I’ve gotten several of these calls and I send an immediate hangup and report the caller ID as SPAM.

  6. Anthony
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I never pick up if I don’t recognize the caller. If it is legit they can leave a voice mail and I’ll get back to them. Also get on the do not call list donotcall.gov (lnnte-dncl.gc.ca for Canada)

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      https://www.donotcall.gov/default.aspx

      In the US – works well

      • Derek Freyberg
        Posted February 16, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        Regrettably, the Do Not Call list doesn’t seem to be doing its job – we used to get a half-dozen or more junk calls a day, and we’ve been on the list for years. Spammers don’t care about the list, and they often spoof caller ID so you have no way to get back at them.
        I use NoMoRobo, which gets rid of about two-thirds of the calls (one ring and they’re gone), and just don’t answer a number I don’t recognize, figuring that if it’s a real call, there’ll be a message. Especially, I don’t get up during meals, because that seems to be prime time for the spammers.
        But that doesn’t stop me longing for the days before junk calls.

    • John Conoboy
      Posted February 16, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      We get a never ending number of robocalls and other scam calls even though we are on the donotcall list. Like you, Anthony, I never answer any call that I can’t identify on my landline or mobile. If it is legit, they can leave a message.

  7. Historian
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Scams and annoying marketers are ubiquitous. This is why I get most of my home phone calls on a landline with an old fashioned answering machine attached to the phone. When the phone rings I will only pick up the handset when the caller starts talking and I am convinced that the call is not somebody I don’t want to speak to. Just yesterday, I received four calls and after my answering machine message, the callers hung up. With this approach, I have mostly managed to avoid receiving messages or talking to people I don’t want to.

    • Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Good method, but then you have to go thru and delete all those calls on your answering machine. Maybe yours is smarter than mine.

    • Vaal
      Posted February 16, 2017 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

      I do the same thing. I never answer a phone if I don’t now who is calling. If it’s a real person and important they can leave a message.

  8. Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Sounds clever – I assume anyone who calls me and wants information is in the business of selling that information rather than any product.

  9. Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    We have a slightly different version. The phone rings, I answer but nothing happens for several seconds. That’s because it is a computer calling. Only when someone answers does it look for a free person to talk to you. Allows them to use a lot fewer people.

    So if nobody answers my “hello” within about a second, I hang up.

    “Telemarchandage” (telephonic merchandizing), as it’s called here, has become a plague. People are up in arms, but there is not a whole lot you can do. I feel sorry for the poor sods who cannot find a better job, but I do occasionally lose my cool and get insulting. It’s frustrating, since you can’t really talk to (cuss out) the folks who are really responsible.

    Advertising makes the world go round.

  10. Petrushka
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    This is simple. I say hello. If there is not an immediate response by a human, I hang up.

    Also, it the caller says please don’t hang up.

    Also if the caller says it’s the callback I requested.

    Also if credit is mentioned.

  11. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Have not seen this one. Another that we would get a lot is a very bad connection, and someone who sounds to be from India is saying that my computer is sending out erroneous signals, and that they need to fix it. We used to get about one of these a week, but recently they have stopped.

    • Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      If I’ve got nothing better to do I sometimes play those guys along to waste their time. I then ask them to hold for a minute while I check my computer but never come back.

      • gscott
        Posted February 16, 2017 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

        I played along with one of these guys, ‘Frank’ (probably from India) and let him talk me into digging into the Windows system error log (which is always full of ‘error’ messages that aren’t really important to the correct operation of Windows). When I told him that the first error message was ‘Frank is a scammer!’, he hung up on me. I wonder why…

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted February 16, 2017 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

          It’s amazing the number of emails I get from ‘Microsoft’ telling me they have detected a suspicious bug in my Windows system files (and click-on-the-link to go to a website and fix). Which I happily delete since I’m running Linux…

          cr

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 17, 2017 at 7:31 am | Permalink

            Yeah no Windows here either but I like to say I don’t have a computer.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted February 17, 2017 at 7:49 am | Permalink

              Then what do you post from?

              (Even if it’s a smartphone, I hate to say, it’s really a computer. *And* it will be running some derivative of Windows or Linux or some Apple thing. But of course you knew that 😉

              cr

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 17, 2017 at 8:11 am | Permalink

                I say that to them. It doesn’t mean it’s true. I have lots of computers even attached to my TV. I do mostly post from my phone though.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted February 17, 2017 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

                I suspected something like that. I’ve got computers coming out of my ears too.

                But you mean… (gulp!)… Diana lied? I’m… horrified by such duplicity.

                (Subconscious: No you’re not, you do it all the time.
                Me: Shutupshutupshutup, no I don’t.
                Subconscious: Oh yes you do. ‘No darling, it fits you perfectly’. ‘Yes I do like your mother’. ‘About 30 miles an hour, Officer’.
                Me: Shut up or I’ll have another beer. I know where you live.
                Subconscious: Urk!)

        • Posted February 16, 2017 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

          LOL. I got an IRS scam call. I asked the caller if he was a bona fide IRS agent. He replied affirmative so I said “Good, I’ve always wanted to say bug off to the IRS (but I said it less politely).”

  12. busterggi
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    And that is why we must never develope true AI. Even stupid robots are already evil-doers.

  13. Kevin Meredith
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Register your number at the do not call registry, and then report each unwanted call. The gov’t claims to act on these reports with fines etc.

    • Fernando
      Posted February 23, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      There’s no point anymore in reporting these calls to the authorities. The caller-ID number is spoofed; there is no way to identify the culprit.

  14. Craw
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    With legit companies I am always asked for more than just a “Yes” in response. It seems like this should be an easy problem for companies like Visa to fix.

  15. David Campbell
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Call Blockers are worth the money. As soon as I recognize a call as something I don’t want I push the big red BLOCK button and that number never bothers me again. Some of them operate multiple numbers and it take a while to block them all but I have cut my robocalls by 90%. For the ones I can’t block I keep an air horn next to the phone. The do not call list only works if the companies honor it and if the spammers are based stateside.

  16. Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I worked on an IT project for the NZ tax department 5 years ago where we were implementing a voice recognition system for tax payers calling with questions on the customer service phone line.
    As personal tax information is secure, we used a bespoke product that was so good at voice recognition in testing it could differentiate between identical twins, and could still recognise someone even if they were congested or had other voice modulation on.
    It could also tell if you were a live voice or a recording.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 16, 2017 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      I absolutely *loathe* that system. Which is why most of my voice responses to it are a barely controlled snarl rather than a normal voice. I don’t mind pressing buttons on the phone (“Press 1 for accounts, 2 for information” sort of thing) or to enter my account number, but for some reason I hate talking to a machine. It’s somehow humiliating. If they want me to talk they can bloody well provide a human to listen.

      It’s not particularly logical but it’s buried deep in my psyche.

      cr

      • Posted February 17, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

        I encountered one where I had to *speak* a card number or the like. *That’s* broken.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted February 17, 2017 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

          Agreed, and I think it featured in that tax department system I just criticised.

          cr

  17. ascanius
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I got one yesterday. They falsely stated that I had stayed in one of their resorts in the past and now had won a free vacation. This was a lie since I’ve never stayed at a resort in my life.

    • eric
      Posted February 16, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I get that one too. Another pretty common robocall I get is:

      “We have important information regarding your credit card [sometimes mortgage loan]. Nothing is wrong, but stay on the line to receive information on how to reduce your interest rate….”

      • Doug
        Posted February 16, 2017 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

        “Hello! You have been recommended by your friends and neighbors for . . .” or “Hello! This is a follow-up call” [when there was never a first one].

        If they don’t say your name at the start of the call [“Hello, Mr. X”], it’s fake.

    • Mattapult
      Posted February 17, 2017 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      A “free vacation” is different than “all expenses paid.” You might get a voucher for one night if you stay seven nights, or book airlines and rental car and tour packages through them. This is true anytime the word “vacation” is thrown in.

      A telemarketer tried that on me one time. I kept arguing, “If this is a prize I won, everything should be free. Why do I have to spend money on something I won for free?” Eventually he yelled, “If you don’t want it, you don’t have to take. Do you?” As he slammed the phone down, I heard laughter in the other room. My roommates were on the other line, knowing they could expect something entertaining.

    • pc
      Posted February 24, 2017 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      So I got the same one today. And I kept answering “Maybe” to all the questions. I finally got through to a live person and when I asked why am I being called, that I am on the Federal DNC List, they promptly hung up.

      I know they ate “Not Supposed to do that” but I want to get to these dredges of society. Any clues on how to finally get to someone without them hanging up on you?

  18. rickflick
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Our service, Verizon, has a free “don’t accept” for robo-calls. Phone rings once, then it stops. Works good.

  19. Posted February 16, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I have been getting these calls several times a day for a week or so. It is so obviously a robocall that I never speak. The ploy might work once, but time after time? Dumb! I do what a person above mentioned doing. If I don’t recognize the number, I usually don’t answer.

  20. bluemaas
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    I just received on my work telephone (university – wide system of office – landlines // 2:06pm Central Time Zone) the first one of these, and it was exactly as Dr Coyne stated: the “trouble – adjusting – my – headset” – voice, female, in an extreeeemely uptalking & cutesy, flippant tone of O – go – so – lightly ‘conversational’ muck.

    THANK YOU, Dr Coyne, for such this t i m e l y warning cuz that ‘poor dear’ — STAT after she’d gotten done “explaining” about her having such trouble adjusting her headset — received BACK from me thus, “No ! You’re not !” (NOT having trouble, that is)

    — and a STAT receiver – slam !

    Blue

    ps I am sorry — I could not off of my crystal display capture swiftly enough the entire number afore m’slam thereof — but did manage this much of said telephone number: 515.446.xxxx … …

    By the way, All: 515 happens to actually BE our precise and correct central Iowa area code. So the criminals are even craftily savvy and nefarious enough to be using the potential answerers’ ‘correct’ area codes !

    • bluemaas
      Posted February 16, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      pps And I have reported this scam – receipt of mine to the University – wide data – & voice – security chief … …

      Blue

  21. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    If there is a delay in responding, I always hang up. If it is someone I know, they can call back. I’ve done this for years & the only person I accidentally hung up on was my aunt because her cellphone is terrible.

    • Posted February 16, 2017 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      Me too. Almost everyone I know does this. I guess the way the scam works is that if someone is clueless enough to wait, they are easy pickings.

  22. David Coxill
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Hi ,send me a cheque for £20 and i will tell you how to deal with people asking you for money.
    YUK YUK .
    If you look on youtube for” Cold caller is left speechless “,it is about how one guy deals with unwanted phone calls .I know the topic is not really about cold callers who are real people ,but it is very funny ,don’t know how to post a link.

    • Richard Bond
      Posted February 17, 2017 at 5:26 am | Permalink

      I found it quickly using Google. Really hilarious!

  23. Hempenstein
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Usually, I don’t pick up any unfamiliar number, but when I do, I don’t say anything & wait to see if they’re going to. More then a few sec of silence & I hang up.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 16, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      That sounded so much like the most interesting man in the world meme that I made one for you.

      • bluemaas
        Posted February 16, 2017 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        O, swe e e et, Ms Diana !

        : )
        Blue

  24. nickswearsky
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    I get calls where a person with a thick accent (Indian) says they are from Microsoft and must immediately assist with a serious virus on my computer. They try to direct me to enter a URL and give info on my computer.

    I usually keep them on the phone for a long while and have some laughs at their expense. I try to steer the conversation to topics that will embarrass them, since they will do anything to keep you on the phone and hopefully scam you.

    The last time, I pretended to be booting up my desktop computer and began asking the person on the phone about what kind of porn they have in India. I got him to list his favorite porn websites. He finally hung up in frustration.

  25. jt512
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    I found an “I’m adjusting my headset” message a few days ago on my message machine. Didn’t realize it was a scam. Good to know.

  26. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Screaming abuse at them is probably safe, since they’re unlikely to be able to use a recording of “just fucking die you piece of shit” as evidence of assent to anything.

    The calls that really grind my gears are where a recording goes into a spiel to try and get me to call some website to buy some crap. What really annoys me is that it’s a machine on the other end so the epiphets I scream in fury down the phone are wasted. If I could only send a signal down the phone that would make their damn machine explode with a lethal blast I would.

    Paradoxically, if it’s a real person cold-calling me, I content myself with a ‘Sorry, not interested’ and hang up. Why? – _not_ because I’m polite, but because I have too much empathy: I can’t help feeling what a shit of a job it must be cold-calling people and how desperately they must need the money to do it.

    I’m just too nice.

    cr

  27. amyt
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    I prefer shouting obscenities; although with all of Tr*mp’s antics I hardly need the practice!

  28. Gordon
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Best attempt I was on the receiving end of was an automated call which purported to come from a mobile phone network (the call coming on my landline was something of a giveaway I realised later)to the effect my account (long number given) was overdue by $56.25 and I should pay it asap or for my convenience pay now by credit card.

    Good effort I thought but no cigar

  29. Charles Minus
    Posted February 16, 2017 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    If I don’t recognize the number I just pick up the phone press the green button and then press the red disconnect button. I’m not going to stand there for six rings, listen to my recorded greeting and the response or lack thereof – a waste of time. I just hang up. So far, I’ve never lost a real call.

  30. Gamall
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    I really want to know what specific obscenities PCC is shouting…

    “You tongue-eating isopod!” … ?

  31. Mattapult
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    We cannot rely on Caller Id to tell us who is calling. It’s too easy to spoof. It’s been like that for decades. Yet, we pay for it…

  32. jwthomas
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    I doubt most would use my method but I simply never answer any ring on my landline phone. If the call is legitimate they’ll leave a message (which I can hear) and I can call back if I choose to. If they don’t leave a message it’s likely to be a spam call. If not, they’ll call back again and leave a message.

  33. Posted February 17, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Wow, I had heard about this “yes” thing ages ago but always assumed it wasn’t a real thing. I mean, how can anyone get authorization from something just because the person happened to say the word yes?

    Guess I’ll take it seriously, unless this above-referenced article is also just repeating the same misinformation.

  34. drakodoc
    Posted February 17, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    If I am unsure of the origin of a call, I do not say anything when I answer. If there is not a sound for 5 seconds I just hang up.


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