A recent scam has made headlines around the world, with news outlets and law enforcement in far-off places warning the public of the threat. What type of crime could be both so horrible and so widespread?

The “Can You Hear Me?” phone scam. Yes, this simple question is wreaking havoc for consumers in many places, and its rampant rise is because it’s both effective and simple. With very little technological know-how and a good amount of extortion, thieves are able to bilk their victims out of their money. They call a random number, ask this basic question, and when the victim says, “Yes,” they record the response and use it as verification that the victim agreed to expensive charges. If the victim tries to register a complaint, they’re warned that the recording is essentially the same thing as a contract and that legal action will be taken against them if they don’t pay up.

This scam also relies on another sneaky little tactic, and that’s our good manners and a basic sense of respect. When someone calls, what do we do? We answer the phone! If someone asks a seemingly harmless question, what do we do? We reply!

But when it comes to phone scams, the smart approach might actually be on getting a little mean. No one should be intentionally hurtful or disrespectful, but there is nothing wrong with taking a few of these steps:

1. If your phone rings and you don’t recognize the number, there is literally no obligation to answer it.

If the caller ID displays a number in a city you’re not familiar with—or don’t have friends and family in—there’s absolutely nothing wrong with ignoring it. If it was an important phone call, they’ll leave a voicemail. You can choose whether or not to call back after hearing the message.

2. You also don’t have to call back.

That one might seem obvious if the message is some mass-market sales call, but think of this: what if the message states that the caller is from the IRS, and you’re in legal trouble for not filing your taxes? That kind of message is a little harder to ignore, and far too many victims of tax scams and fraud return that call.

3. Greetings are often the trigger for the scam phone call.

When your phone rings, you pick it up and say “hello,” only to hear silence on the other end. Once you say hello again, then a person comes on the line. Why? Because the first hello occurred when the autodial software realized that a connection had been made. With the second greeting, the human has had time to step in and join the call. So just don’t repeat yourself. State your greeting and wait, and if you don’t hear anything more, just hang up.

4. The best offense is a good defense, and when it comes to your security, putting the other person on the defensive is a handy approach.

If they ask for your name, instead of answering just respond with something formal like, “What is the nature of your call?” or “Who am I speaking with?” By giving the caller the impression that they may have reached an official phone number, they’re less likely to launch into their script.

5. No one is entitled to your information over the phone.

If you’re ever called and told to verify your identity, state your account number, or any similar request, simply tell them no. They called you, remember? They should have your information! If you don’t wish to be impolite, you can simply say, “I don’t give out that information over the phone.” Take their name, company name, and direct phone number, and tell them you will call back yourself to address the situation. HOWEVER, don’t do it. Instead, look up the actual phone number for the company yourself, and use that phone number. You might be surprised to find out that the urgent problem with your account actually doesn’t exist when you call and speak to a legitimate customer service rep.

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