A not-so-innocent question: For years, Verizon sold millions of people on the promise of solid cellular phone signals with a simple question. “Can you hear me now?” asked Paul Marcarelli, the living pitchman who spent years in anonymity because of his ties to the brand. (He’s much happier with Sprint.)

But that question, so innocent-seeming, has become weaponized in the hands of a bunch of scamming robocallers. The Better Business Bureau reported this week that scammers were calling unsuspecting people, asking people on the other end of the line if they can hear them, then hanging up.

Why? Well the secret is in the response of those receiving the scam call: Basically, callers say “yes,” or “yeah,” or something similar, and the scammers have a vocal response from the person that can then be used to falsely approve a major purchase.

“Reports of this scam are rapidly increasing in our service area,” BBB’s Paula Fleming said in a news release. “BBB is warning consumers to not respond and immediately hang up if they receive a call and the caller asks, "Can you hear me?”

It’s a nice reminder that scam calls are serious business. Fortunately, the tools we have to fight such calls are getting better. In recent months, the iOS app Nomorobo has gained notice for its ability to deftly block spam calls painlessly by automatically detecting them and either muting them or sending them directly to voicemail. It’s pretty cool, and it beats getting the annoying calls at all.

But can we all agree that robocalls suck? It's way better to call weird numbers than for weird numbers to call you.

Ernie Smith
Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.