Good grief. You can’t even trust your phone’s caller ID feature nowadays. Scam artists have learned to manipulate the caller ID function on your phones as part of a ploy to steal your personal information and/or your money. It’s called “Caller ID Spoofing”, and it’s a growing problem. Maybe those old-school rotary dial phones had some redeeming qualities after all…
What is “Caller ID Spoofing”?
As explained by the Federal Communications Commission on its webpage Spoofing and Caller ID, “caller ID spoofing occurs when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID to disguise their identity”. As further noted by the FCC, “spoofing is often used as part of an attempt to trick someone into giving away valuable personal information so it can be used in fraudulent activity or sold illegally.”
Most forms of spoofing are illegal under federal law (The Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009) and FCC rules (adopted in 2011). The federal law prohibits callers from deliberately spoofing caller ID to display inaccurate information with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value. There are limited exceptions when spoofing is permitted, such as when a domestic violence victim may wish to hide her, or his identity, location or phone number, or for law enforcement purposes.
How Does it Work?
Spoofing services are readily available over the internet. The spoofing software allows the caller to falsely enter in any name and phone number to appear on the recipient’s caller ID display. In other words, the spoofers can make it appear on the recipient’s caller ID that an incoming call is from someone whom the recipient might trust, such as the bank or financial institution, an insurance company, creditors, the government, or even their attorney.
In fact, just this week the State Bar of Arizona issued a warning about how the caller ID spoof may now be directed at lawyers and their clients. This sophisticated scam seeks to exploit the attorney/client relationship and defraud consumers of their money. Per the State Bar of Arizona, here’s how that scam works:
- The client receives a phone call.
- The caller ID [fraudulently] shows the number belongs to the attorney.
- The client is told that they need to pay additional money.
- The client is then given a toll-free number to call.
- When the client calls, they are directed as to how to pay the money.
The State Bar suggests that “attorneys should consider advising clients about the potential for this type of scam and to make sure they double check before any additional money is sent. If this happens to you and your client, please file a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://www.ic3.gov.”
Lawyers and their clients are not the only targets of such fraudulent ploys. In late 2015, the Internal Revenue Service posted an alert about a caller ID spoofing scam by which the spoofers claimed to be with the IRS and demanded immediate payment of back taxes via credit card to avoid imminent legal trouble. Warnings and examples of other caller ID spoofing scams have been posted here (Arizona Attorney General’s office) and here (Iowa Attorney General’s office).
What Can You Do if You Think Your Caller ID is Being Spoofed?
- Never give out personal information or financial information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious
- If you get a call from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency seeking personal or financial information, hang up, and then call the number from a known source, such as on your account statement, in the phone book or posted on the company’s or agency’s actual website to verify the authenticity of the request.
- Be very cautious if you are being pressured to provide information immediately.
You can also file a complaint online with the FCC, or call 888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322). Arizona residents may file a consumer complaint at www.azag.gov (click “consumer,” then “file a complaint”). Stay tuned for further developments.