Monday, February 06, 2017

Just say no. (Or at least not ‘yes’.)

Once in a while, I use it for a concall, but my landline is largely reserved for incoming calls I have no interest in taking: people looking for money; some energy company or another that wants me to change suppliers – whatever that means; the folks dangling the “free” trip I’ve “won” that entitles me to a vacation someplace I don’t want to go; the credit card schemers; the guys in India who want to convince me that Microsoft told them to call me. (No they didn’t, “Brian”.)

Sometimes I miss a call that’s a real call. Like last week, when Circle Furniture wanted to schedule delivery of my new Stressless chair. (Yes, I have officially gone over to the geezer side and gotten a comfy recliner, the better to doze in front of the TV while comfily reclining in.) Fortunately, I checked my voice mails – which I often go weeks without listening to - and got my comfy reclining chair exactly where it belongs: in my den, parked in front of my TV. (I think I’m in love…)

And, yes, I have done call blocking, but you can’t block an organization you’ve contributed to. (I’m looking at you, Democratic Party.) Or an organization you’ve purchased something from. (That would be the bombardment of calls from some electricity supplier.)

Maybe it’s all a Verizon strategy to keep people paying for landlines that are used almost exclusively as a repository for unwanted phone calls.

Quite disturbingly, of course, nuisance calls are now being made to cell phones. If I don’t recognize a number, I don’t answer. If it’s a legit call, they’ll leave a message. And I block the telemarketing and scam calls as soon as they come in.

But now there’s a new scheming kid in town that makes me look kindly on all those calls about the trip I’d won. Or even the calls from “Brian.”

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. (Source: Boston Globe)

I can tell these scammers right now not to bother with either of my phones, as there is zero possibility that I would be confused or scared into paying for an unbooked cruise. Yet I can see how some people would be. A couple of years before her death, my mother got caught up in something with a scam artist who claimed she’d bought a home security system for more than $1K. Of course, she hadn’t, but she had spoken to the guy on the phone, and was a bit confused and a bit vulnerable, and was concerned that she’d agreed to something that she didn’t want. So when she got the paperwork, she wanted to make sure she did the right thing. (My mother, by the way, was highly intelligent, suspicious, and cautious. Plus she knew, down to the penny, everything she spent money on. If she could get almost drawn in…)

A while back – when I was still answering calls – I got one from a group running some fundraiser for police officers (a frequent front for scams, by the way). They were running something called “Envelope Day,” going through neighborhoods and picking up envelopes containing donations (cash only, please) for cops. They even gave me a fake room number of a fake office they were working out of at the State House.

I called the Secretary of State to report this scam and, of course, didn’t leave an envelope out. I also did a bit of research on the name of the organization that they’d given me, and learned that the guys running it had been arrested for it in the past. In Florida, I believe. Surprise, surprise.

Despite all the red flags that this call set off in my mind, I saw a fellow building resident leaving a cash-filled envelope out on envelope day. Fortunately, I was able to warn her off. (I almost wanted to sit there and wait for the con men to show up, but decided it was more prudent not to.)

I will note that I’m something of a sucker for a sob story told by someone who accosts me on the street. Yes, I know they’re probably fakers and frauds – they really didn’t just run out of gas; they really don’t need money to get the train to Providence; they really didn’t just lose their guitar – yet I do feel that a well-told tale is entertaining, and I will on occasion give the tale-teller a ten. Of course, if a few weeks later, they approach me again in the same location – as has happened – I will tell them off, warn off anyone within shouting distance, and tell them to move along. Which they, quite sensibly, do.

Phone scams are, of course, more insidious in that you can actually get tricked into departing with, say, a credit card number, which wouldn’t happen to the tale-teller on the street.

Anyway, the article I saw had some advice, which I’ll pass along here as a Public Service Announcement:

  • If you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer.
  • If your carrier has a call-blocking service that can keep these rancid calls from going through, avail yourself of it.
  • “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.”

The first two are pretty simple and straightforward. But how many of us are going to have the presence of mind to avoid using the word “yes.” If someone on the other end of the line asks is we can hear them, 99.99% of us are going to answer with a simple “yes.” We’re not going to remember to omit the “yes” and give a complex answer like “I hear you clearly.”

Of course, if you do get sucked in, call your bank. Call your credit card companies. Call the Better Business Bureau.

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

That is, if the Federal Trade Commission’s still in business…

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