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Definition

voice signature

A voice signature is a type of electronic signature that uses an individual’s recorded verbal agreement in place of a handwritten signature. It is considered legally binding in both the private and public sectors under certain conditions. A voice signature may also be referred to as a telephonic signature.

During the contracting phase of a telephone transaction, a company can use biometrics software to record a customer approving a transaction.  The recording is used to create a unique voiceprint, which is comparable to a fingerprint or retina, as no two voices are the same.  Once a voiceprint has been collected, it can be used to validate a person’s identity on later phone calls.

Under the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (ESIGN) Act and common law in the United States, voice signatures are legally enforceable with the addition of certainty of terms. The certainty of terms documents that both contracting parties accept  “I Agree” statements. In order to be binding, the voice signature needs to be attached to the contract.  A standard solution is to embed the digital voice recording in the contract and use encryption to prevent the files from being disassociated or altered.  

Voice signatures benefit organizations by increasing conversion rates compared to conventional in-person, ink-to-paper methods. They can eliminate the long process that usually involves printing, distributing and waiting for the returned signed documents. In turn, organizations see real increases in customer service quality, levels of data security and conversion rates.

In the United States, voice signatures have played an important part in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Telephonic applications and signatures are accepted for coverage through the Health Information Exchange (HIE), Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) programs across the United States. Under the law, however, collection and storage of voice signatures can vary from state to state.

Unfortunately, voice signatures can be misused with potentially negative consequences. An example is the can you hear me telephone scam where the victim is recorded answering "yes" to a question that will most likely be answered affirmatively. The affirmative response is then butt spliced to another audio file and used as a voice signature to authorize charges without the victim's knowledge.

To avoid becoming the victim of voice signature scams, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers mobile and landline phone customers the following advice:

  • Hang up immediately if a call begins "Can you hear me?"
  • Be suspicious of robocalls.
  • When speaking to an unfamiliar caller, be alert for any question that prompts the answer "yes."
  • Check bank, credit card and cell phone bill statements regularly for unauthorized charges.
  • Ignore incoming phone calls from unfamiliar numbers.
  • Do not return missed calls from unfamiliar numbers.
  • Report suspicious calls to the Better Business Bureau and/or FTC hotlines.
  • Consider joining the Do Not Call Registry.
This was last updated in March 2017

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