Have you ever looked at the phone number appearing on your caller ID and wondered who really was calling you?
Now, thanks to current technology, the caller could be anyone, regardless of what your caller ID reflects.
Scam artists and other individuals can use a technique called “spoofing” to disguise the origin of their calls. They can make it appear that you are getting a call from your local bank, when the call is coming from another country.
Spoofing has become increasingly easy to do. With the right technology, almost anyone can download computer programs or applications that allow them to input the number or name that will be shown on the caller ID.
Scammers can use spoofing to make their ploys seem real. For example, con artists could ‘spoof’ your bank’s name and phone number. Once you pick up the phone, the scam artist might tell you about a security breach and ask for personal information to verify you were not a victim. If you provide it, you could be giving a scammer access to your bank account.
In addition to gaining personal information, people may use spoofing to cause harm in other ways. In 2007, a team of people, including Stuart Rosoff of Cleveland, hacked phone lines and used spoofing to contact police departments and falsely state there was an emergency at the spoofed location. As a result, SWAT teams were sent to unsuspecting people’s homes. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the team was responsible for more than 60 similar calls.
In some cases, legitimate companies may spoof caller ID to direct numbers to a central line. For example, if a large call center uses an 800 number and the company does not want customers to call back the individual phone lines, the company may spoof caller IDs to show the 800 number.
While the technique of spoofing has been around for a few years, it still causes problems. People who use spoofing are hard to track down because the origin of the phone call is disguised. Other than the number that appears on the caller ID, consumers have little information to report to the appropriate agencies.
Without information, it can be difficult to locate scammers that use spoofing. Also, many spoofers are out of the country, making them even more difficult to find.
Nevertheless, certain laws attempt to combat problems with spoofing. The Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 prohibits the use of spoofing when the intent is to defraud, harm, or obtain something of value (such as personal information).
If you think you have been a victim of a spoofing scam, file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission at 888-225-5322 or at www.fcc.gov/complaints
Protect yourself from spoofing scams and reduce unwanted calls:
• Don’t routinely give out your phone number. If fewer organizations have your phone number, you likely will receive fewer calls. Pay attention when someone asks for your phone number, and do not automatically provide it.
• Be suspicious of the number that appears on your caller ID.
• Pay attention to the content of the call; don’t just trust the caller ID. While there is little you can do to stop spoofing itself, you can become more aware and more skeptical of the people who call. Just because a caller says he represents your bank does not mean he does. He could be a scam artist located in a foreign country.
• If you get a call from a company or government agency seeking personal information, don't provide it. Instead, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company’s or agency’s website to find out if the organization actually needs the information the caller requested.
• Opt out of sharing your personal information. Many businesses automatically share your personal information with other businesses who may then call you. You can take active steps to “opt out” of having your information shared.
• Get on the Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov
or 888-382-1222. Registration is permanent (meaning you should not have to register the same phone number twice), and you should see a reduction in telemarketing calls about a month after you register. There are some exemptions to this list.
For more information or questions about telemarketing, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov