Can you hear me?

“Hello can you hear me”: Social engineering or part of the call?

Have you ever received a phone call where the caller’s first question is, “Can you hear me?”

A lot of talk on the internet since around 2017 with people saying they were encouraged to say “Yes!” only to later have their voice used to pay for services.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and I do not play one on television. I am however familiar with social engineering. I can tell you, in my professional opinion, of all the things that never happened, this never happened the most. 😉

But… really? Is this for real? Or is it fear mongering, which is quite common on the internet? With a simple one word answer, can someone really steal my identity, or obligate me to a purchase?

Can I be obligated with a single word?


The answer is: Probably not. Realize, you likely have dozens of video clips with you and your friends on YouTube, or Instagram, or TikTok, or Facebook. And can a single word be used to identify you? So the perpetrators of this likely hoax are saying that a bad actor can order stuff on the internet, be on a call with whoever sales person for however long they need to be on, and then at the crux of the call they will change their voice completely and insert your voice with a single word response “Yes”?

Does that even sound reasonable? Of course it doesn’t sound reasonable. But it makes for good click bait, and fear mongering creates a lot of interest. The problem is, it also distracts you from real adversaries. Distractions are sometimes fun, but distractions are usually not very good use of your time.

Why the “Hello can you hear me” then? What are more reasonable thoughts on why these calls come in with that odd question?

Confirming you are a real person


The reason for the can you hear me is most likely a robocall where the calling company doesn’t want to waste the time of a real agent. Robo companies are operating on volume – the more the calls the better, because some percentage of people will actually buy what they are selling.

If an answering machine answers, there is no reason to waste the time of a real agent. When the “just say yes or no” happens, it is because the robocall recognized a voice, but thinks it has an answering machine.

Buying time for the operator

A second reason is that the robocaller just transferred the call to a real agent, who is trying to buy themselves time in the awkwardness of having the phone answered. You may have said “Hello” or something else, and they don’t know what you said, so in order to trick you into thinking they were having phone issues they ask you to basically repeat yourself with the cue “Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?”

Final thoughts

There are many reasons that a caller would ask whether the called party can hear them, including

  • A delay tactic, while being transferred to a live agent.
  • A simple way to start a conversation and to get the other person to respond.
  • Allows the scammer to test the audio quality of the call and to make sure that they are able to understand the other person.
  • A way to gauge the other person’s interest in the scam. If the other person responds positively to the “Can you hear me?” question, the scammer is more likely to continue with the scam.
  • A way to confuse or startle the other person, making them more likely to fall for the upcoming scam in confusion.
  • A basic tactic for sales, get the potential buyer to get used to saying “yes” in the conversation.

Now that said, these are my professional opinions. And remember, just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you, so hanging up the phone is the right thing to do.

From: Your local computer security friend.