Lately I've been getting a lot of calls that start out with dead air, followed by a cheerful, friendly voice asking, “Hello? Can you hear me?”
I don't hang up automatically at this point, because it's always possible that one of my friends is, indeed, trying to call me and having phone problems. One of my friends or someone with a legitimate reason to call me.
But invariably, if I continue to listen, I'll hear something like “Oh, great! Sorry, I was having trouble with my headset. I'm calling you today because you've stayed at one of our resorts and I wanted to make you aware of a special offer for customers like you . . .”
No use trying to interrupt the caller to ask “what resort?” or say “Stop right now and tell me who you're representing.” There's no live person there, embarrassed by her headset problems but eager to tell you about a special offer. It's a recording. Just hang up.
Some sources advise hanging up as soon as you hear “Can you hear me?” And under no circumstances answering “Yes,” to indicate you can hear them. The theory is that whoever's calling will record your “yes” and use it to authorize charges on your phone bill. Snopes.com notes that this isn't proven or disproven.
But it pays to be cautious. So don't say yes. Stifle the years of training in being a polite person. Just listen until you're positive it's a recording. Then hang up.
It's a shame that scammers like these are ruining what was once a useful bit of technology. I know a great many people who won't even answer their phones if they don't recognize the number. Which does rather negate a lot of the phone's usefulness, doesn't it? I haven't quite reached that point—I can think of too many legitimate reasons for people I don't yet know to be calling me. Bookstores. Fellow SinC and MWA members.
In fact, the other day, I was the only person who answered when a sick friend was looking for a ride home. A good thing there are still a few of us willing to take our chances on the phone!
And what about the many dogs and cats running around with their owners' phone numbers on their tags—what if someone found the missing critter, tried to call, and got no answer. In fact--
You know, there could be a plot in this. Or at least a pretty cool plot twist. I can also think of a couple of interesting ways to use the scam calls in a plot. What if Meg got one of those calls and . . .
The mystery writer's motto: when someone does you wrong, don't get even. Just smile and kill them early in your next book.