Robocall "yes" scam—how can this possibly hold up in court?

I’m sure we’ve all heard about this before: A robocall rings your phone and prompts you, one way or another to say, “yes.” They record your voice and then use it to “prove” you ordered something from them, authorized a purchase, etc.

Really? How could this possibly hold up in court? Seems I could literally record anyone saying “yes”—say, a celebrity, or Donald Trump—and then “prove” that they’ve agreed to sign over all of their properties to me. Done! I’ve got proof!

It seems like a too-scary-to-be-true scenario. How would this not immediately get chucked in any court?

I think it immediately does whenever it comes to court. They are counting on it not being worth your effort to take it that far.

Note, there’s really no record of this actually happening. For them to be able to charge you, they would still need to get your payment information in some way.

Agree with enalzi
I’ve heard about this phenomena, but I don’t know if its actually turned out to be true. I think I’ve heard of companies ‘switching’ phone service with verbal affirmations, but that was back a couple of decades ago and got shut down pretty quickly


Well, they already have your phone number, and may be able to pass charges along in your phone bill. That used to be a big scam.

ButSnopes says this is “Unproven” – all their info was from mass media repeating this story, all just saying that somebody had ‘reported’ it – but no actual victim ever identified.

I’ve had a number of calls - they might have been automated / recorded, I don’t know - where the caller simply said, “Hello?”, I said “Hello” back, then there was a pause and the caller again said, “Hello?” Each time, I just put the phone down on the basis that if it was indeed important they would call me again. Of course, they never did.

It seems odd, really. As Snopes points out, there is no evidence of anybody actually being scammed in this way, yet there is a profusion of these types of calls. I started getting one or two a week around the same time I started hearing about the alleged scam. So what is the point of these calls? Somebody is obviously expending considerable effort to get people to say “Yes.” So, why?

There is also the scenario of cramming. where charges are added to your phone bill for services you didn’t order. That happened to me once but there was no phone call associated with adding it to my bill. Someone just put my number into their billing system somewhere.

I’ve actually seen this scam in action, but it was many years ago.

Back when I was a librarian, there was a skeevy publisher that would call libraries pushing a new dictionary. Most libraries are already well-stocked with up-to-date dictionaries, so they’d say no. Inevitably, a couple of weeks after the phone call, the dictionary would show up in the mail—accompanied by a bill. When the library would call the publisher and say, “we never ordered this, so we’re returning it,” the publisher would respond, “We have a recording of you [or another staff member] saying ‘yes’ to this.”

IIRC, this scam was rather naive and not very effective. Most libraries are government entities and simply won’t be bullied into paying for things if there’s no record of a purchase order.

I first heard this story sometime last year. I went looking for the original stories, but haven’t been able to find any. But the version that is now making the rounds and that is reported on in snopes seems to have morphed a bit from the original.

The original had scammers tricking the victim into saying “yes” and then calling back the victim. They would tell the victim that they agreed to pay for something and play them a recording of saying the word “yes.” Then they would demand that the victim immediately go out and buy a prepaid debit card and send them the debit card number or else the scammer was going to file a lawsuit or have the cops come and arrest the victim.

The victims would freak at the thought of a lawsuit or being arrested and do as they were told. I specifically remember them interviewing a couple of people who admitted they had done this.

And it’s not all that implausible. Scammers call up people pretending to be IRS agents and demand that they buy iTunes gift cards or be sent to jail and it works. So people are gullible.

But these new, morphed reports of the scam where saying “yes” actually authorizes the scammer to process a charge on a credit card or phone bill sound less plausible to me.

I have had a few of this sort of call at our place of business (most of these are from online ad agencies based in Canada).

I just tell them we are not going to pay anything, and will put any correspondence from them in the wastebasket without opening it. They usually threaten collection, but at that time I hang up.

We have never had any followup problems.

This is actually kind of fun, as I get a chance to be a real nasty bastard on the phone.

I actually don’t answer my phone, I let it go to voicemail. Several times I have heard a recorded voice saying, “Can you hear me?” This scam is one of the reasons I don’t answer, along with all kinds of people trying to sell me something. If it’s important, I’ll call back, usually within a few hours.

Yeah I don’t get it. Neither my phone company nor my credit card company have any idea what my voice sounds like, so how would having a recording of my voice help a scammer?

Most people won’t recognize their own voice on a recording. They know it sounds funny, but that’s about it. The scam works by convincing the mark that they’re liable for payment. To do that, all you need is a recorded voice that isn’t * too* different to be believable.

The first I heard of this reputed scam was a couple months ago, when my brother told me he’d heard about it on the news. My reaction was that there was no way to authorize anything with just my voice, for the reasons pointed out in the Snopes article. No one has ever collected my voice for any kind of biometric verification, so what would they match the recording to?

In the version my brother relayed to me, when you answer the phone, the person on the other end asks, “Is this <your name>?” In this version of the story, the bad guy already has your name and your voice is the key to the scam. In either case, I’m pretty sure it’s BS.

Not long after the conversation with my brother, I started a new job. The company I work for pit my name and picture up on the website. A week or two into the job, I got a call from someone who seemed to be in a call center. She asked “Is this Bayard?” I said “Yes”, and she immediately hung up. My guess is that she was calling on behalf of some lead generating company or something like Spokeo, to make sure my number was correct. Maybe it’s just my lack of imagination, but I can’t figure out a way to harm me with just my voice saying “Yes”.

My WAG is that the call I got was more or less legitimate, if annoying. The “can you hear me” calls are probably unrelated. I suspect those are like the Crazy Clowns scare of last year: some random occurrences, some exaggeration, media attention, and a bunch of copycats. Pesto! Moral panic!

That sounds like a variation on the old* toner scam.

*Old as in it doesn’t happen as often now. I used to get a toner scam call at least once a week, now it’s probably less than once a year.

My wife passed on this email that was going around warning about this. My initial impression is - what a load of BS.

To use your “yes” a company would have to go to court and provide as evidence a record of the entire call - not just you saying yes, but them reading out “do you want to order our $1,000 dog-turd polisher?”. After all, they are basically taking you to small claims (or large claims) court to pay a bill you refuse to pay, so they have to prove you owe. Sending a company or person fraudulent invoices might be a minor crime, it might even be passed off as an over-zealous employee, sorry about that. But splicing a fake audio record together and presenting it as evidence rises to the level of fraudulent evidence, perjury (for swearing it’s a valid recording) and disbarment for the lawyer (unless he uses the “I’m an idiot” defense). All of which are indicative of serious jail time.

As the others have pointed out, if it’s true, it’s simply an attempt to get something from people who are afraid and naïve. the force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded. They would never try to carry on to an actual court case.

However, this sort of scam gets more leverage when the person actually has done something that gives the hint that they may actually be on the hook. “Hello. Can you hear me?” “Yes” Doesn’t do it. Perhaps something like they innocently assumed the “trial” product with gift was free might work.

(We had one bunch that did this - “Try our cleaner, we’ll send you a free mug too.” The scammers did this to larger companies - they sent a case of cleaner and an exorbitant bill. When anyone went to send it back, their shipping department said they couldn’t send it without attaching the Canadian chemical safety notices - and they had no safety notices for this product, it didn’t arrive with any. IIRC, our boss who got caught in this simply said - refuse to pay.)

I’ve been getting these calls for the last several weeks as well. Well, just the same one over and over really.

A woman calls, says “hello”, and pretends to drop her headset. Apologizes, and asks “can you hear me?”. I figure this is when they would record you saying “Yes”, and then proceeds to prattle on about having recently gone on a cruise with her company, and blah blah blah. I assume this is when most people would hang up.

I’m pretty sure they don’t have my payment information, and even if they did I don’t think a recorded verbal affirmation is going to make scamming me any easier. I think Alley Dweller’s hypothesis sounds the most likely; using the voice clip to hopefully trick somebody into voluntary sending the scammers money.

It actually sounds a lot like what happened to a friend of mine. She was the victim of an even worse phone scam about a year ago. She’s a Chinese citizen going to university on a student Visa. A scammer called her and claimed to be with the IRS, and told her she filled her taxes incorrectly, and that a warrant had been issued for her arrest and deportation (or something like that). They told her she needed to be a fine, online of course, and the whole issue could be corrected. Not being familiar with U.S laws, she believed them, got on to some shady website made to look like a .gov site, and very nearly entered her CC info. Luckily she texted me and a few other friends, and we managed to convince her it was all a scam.

I wish there was some recourse for victims of these scams. Law enforcement was less than useless when it came to reporting the crime.

About once every two weeks I get the “Can you hear me Ok?” phone scam. I can burp on command, and let a massive one loose in response. I really hope someone goes through and listens to the replies.

I believe this type of scam was behind the People’s Republic of China getting Kenya to deport Taiwanese suspects to mainland China. So at least Red Chinese law enforcement is on the case…