Not strictly related to authorizing charges on credit cards but indeed YES, the
yes scam is very dangerous over the phone and daily used. I force myself not to say that magic word over the phone to an unknown number, trying to answer "It is correct", "It is me", "You are right", knowing the danger of that word.
With this answer, I will do my best to prove that this kind of scam has been perpetrated so far and is percieved as an actual threat by the social context I live in.
In Europe, and with specifics to Italian Market, you can sign a contract over the phone by recording the call. Because of this innovative possibility aimed at save time and paper, there is a relevant number of scams over electricity/pay-tv/phone contracts. This possibility is regulated by decree n. 21 of 21.02.2014 which translates an European regulation  into local law. But the law provisions are very clear: a contract must be eventually concluded under a different medium.
The following scam I am going to describe is aimed at maximizing the commission fees that are paid by a utility company (e.g. phone, gas, pay-tv) to a sale agency for each contract brought to conclusion. The one who is most interested to the money is the salesperson, which earns a fee. The utility company gets new customers at the risk of being sued in the future, or, as I will illustrate, fined by the Antitrust authority. Normally the consumer whose
yes is abused suffers an unwanted change of contract with likely disadvantageous fees/tariffs, which for telephone services will likely include one-time cessation and activation fees, modem rental, etc.
There is yet no firm evidence, with detail the Antitrust report I will be commenting later, that the utility companies are crime-partnering with the salesmen. The utility companies call themselves victims of the scam while they still generate revenue from new contract boosts.
TL;DR: the scam works by using social engineering to both obtain personal information you wouldn't find elsewhere and tricking the victim into wording yes.
The scheme is the following: the call centre starts by some general information, e.g. your name and phone number, and will call you to get additional personal information that is private using social engineering. During the phone call, the caller will trick the victim into pronouncing
yes at any point ("Are you Mr...?", "Can you hear me")
Q: Am I speaking to Mr. Simpson?
A: Yes <== First and most damage is done here
Q: Hello, I am calling from the National Electrical Producer's administration office. There is an issue with a bill, may we check?
A: How can I help?
Q: Please take your last bill... (some chat) ... can you please read me the POD code? (read note)
Q: [Additional chat and a good time to obtain the IBAN number printed on the bill]
Now the scammer will say bye, hang the phone and take the recorded YES to construct an audio tape like this
Q: This is a voice-recorded contract, do you agree with this recording?
Q: Do you confirm your name to be Homer Simpson?
Q: Do you want to purchase an electricity contract with
Q: Do you confirm your POD number is EU0000000000000?
Q: Do you confirm today is 30 February 2018?
After a few months, in time to forget about the call long ago, the inconscious customer will start being billed by
PowerCo for his electricity, maybe at a higher rate. Homer Simpson will call in to demand what's going on, and when asked to show off a contract, PowerCo will provide the audio recording with the voice of Homer Simpson, asserting that voice-recorded contracts are valid contracts under current regulation, demanding payments and threatening debt collection.
The call centre obtains fees from PowerCo from each contract they complete.
Note: A POD code (which may be interpreted as Point Of Delivery) uniquely identifies a power metre. Can be used to establish or switch electricity contracts. Similar codes for gas (PDR) and telcos (migration code, ICCID).
References, from the Italian market:
Commentary on evidence video by Le Iene
La truffa del sì -
The YES scam video coverage on a case of electricity scam
The video was aired by Italian TV journalism/entertainment show "Le Iene" in 2017 on a national-wide channel. The show and its reporters are widely considered a reliable source of information as they brought to mainstream public a number of controverse cases, including a major drug scandal in the Italian parliament. For sake of balance I deem noteworthy to mention that the show was the major support of the Stamina Method media pressure in 2013, which was ultimately sentenced not having any scientific evidence.
The video starts with the case of a couple who ended up without electricity after failing to pay the bills to the utility company. The presenter claims that the ultimate cause of their problems is an audio recording of a phone call between the lady and Green Network with the caller having an East-European accent (likely Albanian) asking for the lady's consent to sign the contract with GN.
Excerpts from the recording 00:37:
Q: Are you the current holder of the contract?
Q: Are you vebally agreeing to Green Network Light and Gas contract?
Q: Do you have requested Green Network for a supply [of electricity], switching from your previous utility provider?
Q: Do you confirm your will to switch from the previous utility provider to Green Network Light and Gas?
The presenter then asks (00:54): "Did you notice something odd? The Yes by Mrs. Carla!" and the
yeses are played back in short sequence. Presenter adds (01:03):
It happened they have made a copy & paste, and then clipped as only answer in a phone call in which Madame was asked for consent to change electricity provider. But Mrs. Carla never had that conversation
Mrs. Carla (1:15):
When they call in and ask, "Excuse me, is this the Simpsons?" [Redacted because I can't understand the family name] And then I answer YES
At 1:20 the audio recording is analysed by a forensic consultant (Paolo dal Checco) confirming that the recording was crafted by a single "yes" waveform.
Forensic at 1:24
I can confirm that the recording shows a number of
yeses that have all been extracted from a single only YES
Presenter (continuing forensic sentence)
And that YES was copied, pasted and mixed to background noise, like if it was a true call, but mounting all the 12
yeses one after another, look what comes out.
At 1:42 the forensic's laptop shows the
yeses and their waveforms. Audience can clearly hear that the
yeses are the same sound.
I like to quote presenter's comment verbatim
Then, a YES is enough to be f****d up
The presenter explains that the family have been ignoring the bills from Green Network since the company started billing them for electricity. They did not simply recognize Green Network as their provider.
A familiar (Mr. Riccardo) called in to get the proof of consent, and they replied with their audio.
In the video, at 2:40, both Mr. Riccardo and the presenter claim that everyone can hear this is not a true audio, everyone except Green Network, which now is moved into the witness stand.
At 2:55 Green Network was interviewed and admitted that a number of scams was ongoing by a number of call centres, then claimed to have sued the scammer call centres.
Giovanni Barberis (General Director of Green Network, 3:05)
That is enough for me.
We know that
Since a few months we have been victims of rogue salesmen. We sued them, we cut business with them
At 3:50, the forensic is interviewed again, "In order to avoid being screwed up, what can one do?"
Avoid saying "YES" when somebody asks you to confirm your identity
The presenter advises the public how to answer a phone call from an unknown number without saying "YES"
Q: Good Morning, are you Mr. Nicolò De Vitis?
A: Who am I speaking with?
Q: Are you the owner of this number?
A: Tell me...
Understood? Never say YES
Commentary on video 10
In this video aired in 2015 on a major national TV channel from same network as the previous, the presenter starts with a claim:
And when some consumer claims to have misunderstood, quickly these companies show off perfect recordings in which everything [bullying prices/clauses] are clearly explained. Except that nobody recorded what was told earlier
The above means that not the entire phone call is permanently recorded, but only the contract part. It usually starts, by regulatory order, with "Do you confirm your will to record this phone call?"
So the presenter said to have "followed a sample family for many months" to discover the lies, recording the teleselling calls they received.
This video does not yet again directly prove that someone was stolen a
yes answer into a new contract. In order to get such an evidence, one would need to record his calls earlier, but people so smart to record unknown calls especially for TV usage are generally smart enough not to provide sensitive information, so the loophole occurs. In general, I am afraid there will be little to no direct evidence that
yes was extracted from a single call into a contract (comparing the first
yes with the evidence claimed as contract by the company). But I would still like to go on with the video and show the lies worded by the telesellers
Call at 00:49
(Presenter) Yes, Hello?
(East-European accent Teleseller) Welcome sir, I am Andrea Rosani and I am calling you from The Central Office of Electricity and Gas to inform you that by this week your electricity fare will be discounted a lot. In order to charge you with new prices we must only confirm your technical data
P: I am sorry, The Central Office of Electricity and Gas?
T: Sir, I am calling you from The Price Lowerage Office
P: What is the company you are calling for?
T: It is [redacted by the show]
P: Ah, it's a company different than the one supplying electricity to me. I am sorry, I don't
What is shown in the above call are only the social engineering techniques that the telesellers are going to use. In the second call (1:56, 2:04) the teleseller asks for the POD number explicitly (it is clipped as a continuation of the first call, "Ok, let's run those technical verifications"). The presenter draws random numbers from a
bingo tombola reel.
In the second part of the video, a representative of the not mentioned electricity company admits that there is an ongoing scam (word used) but claims it is the teleseller's fault, which happens to be a Chinese box. At 3:50 it is shown that a Roman utility company outsourced teleselling to a company based in Verona, which on their side re-outsourced phoning to an Albanian call centre.
The video ends with promise of continuation but I couldn't find the next video in which the presenter travels to Albania to interview the telesellers with hidden cameras.
- A crafted record won't stand court in the end. It is not hard for people armed with Audacity or any amateur audio software to identify that the record has been crafted. But it will take a court case
- In the Italian market I mentioned, criminal and civilian cases are separate and sentences may be different, so while one court may be called for charging the call center of criminal actions, another court is due to void the contract. A civilian court case action takes time and money. This is not covered in the sources, it is how generally Italian justice works
- Luckily, there are a few legal provisions to avoid civilian court and save money. One is that the contract is legally binding only after paperwork, as cited in 2.
- The other provision is that regulatory authorities (AEEGSI, AGCOM, AGCM) allow consumers to submit cases for little or no money via extra-judicial settlement. And have sanctioned the electricity/gas/phone companies a number of times (Antitrust: 12, 13, 14)
- The call centres have all the time to cash their money for the contracts and disappear, or reopen with another business name. I am not yet finding the video from Striscia La Notizia.
- The scam works well with elder or unaware customers. If you find something is odd with your bills/contracts, you have all legal protections to claim the old contract after proving it was unwanted. But your old mother may not notice and continue to pay. Some old victims were not lucky, didn't pay and ended without electricity. This claim might be supported by the video I linked and similar cases covered by the media. In general, a lot of customers may be unaware of their rights and be easily scared by the threat of legal prosecution or debt collection actions.
Commentary on 14
Link is interesting at few points:
At point 9, the Authority does not mention the "yes" scam but focuses on the fact that solicitation calls from salespeople (outbound teleselling) do not provide adequate information on the purpose of the call. This supports my example conversation where the scammer pretends that there is an issue with you bill.
At points 31 to 35 Authority determines the revenue for the telesellers. Telesellers are rewarded based on the number of POD codes they make contracts for.
From point 78 on, the Authority investigates whether Green Network was aware that a number of unintentional contracts was supplied by their sales network (not just teleselling)
At point 91 the Authority sentences that actions put in place by GN to limit the occurrences of unwanted contracts were marginal
Green Network was sentenced (if the word is appropriate) guilty by the Antitrust authority for violation of consumer rights.
There are indeed a few missing points as highlighted by comments. I don't know if providing interpretation/speculation is worth
- Why crafting a record if it can't stand court? Indeed, those records will never stand court
- The above in other words: what stops scammers from using their own voice since utility companies do not check the vocal contracts thoroughly? Is their idea that customers will refrain from a court case if they hear their own original voice?
- Since law requires contracts to be finalized over paper or digital medium, why don't utility companies obey the law and send those paper contracts? Why do they stop at recorded phone calls?