Telemarketers and other unwanted callers have been the bane of many households’ existence for decades. With the proliferation of caller ID in the 1990s, millions could breathe a sigh of relief as they now had the ability to screen and even automatically block calls from “Unknown” or “Private” numbers. Unfortunately, in recent years, technology has provided a benefit to scammers in the form of caller ID spoofing technology – software that enables the caller to disguise his or her name and phone number as that of a trusted company, government agency, or even the recipient of the call. This technology is widely available for free online.
Spoofing technology can seem innocuous at first – images of teenagers prank-calling each other may come to mind. However, scammers have long used the technology to defraud unsuspecting victims out of money and personal information, including banking and social security numbers.
The East Texas Better Business Bureau recently reported a “flood” of calls where overseas scammers attempt to trick customers into thinking a legitimate East Texas business is calling, then claim to have methods to lower their credit card interest rates, encouraging recipients to provide a credit card number.
“Technology has made it easier and provided new options for scammers. Using software to dial over the Internet, criminals can make any business name and phone number show up on caller I.D.,” said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas. “By hijacking the names and phone numbers of companies with which you are familiar, the callers attempt to gain your trust in hopes they can trick you into handing over important financial information.”
Salt Lake City has reported scammers posing as the Salt Lake City Police Department Dispatch Center to demand immediate payment of bogus fees or fines under threat of arrest. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, a growing number of victims have “fallen prey to fraudsters demanding payments via prepaid money cards,” with up to six cases a day being added to investigators’ files.
Another technique involves scammers calling with recipients’ own names and numbers to get them to answer the phone out of confusion and let their guard down.
Once victims reveal their personal information, they can fall prey to a litany of consequences, including having their accounts drained, their credit ruined, or their identity stolen, all of which are extremely difficult to rectify once they have transpired.
Government Takes Action
In 2009, Congress criminalized the practice of modifying caller ID information through the Truth in Caller ID Act. Specifically, the Act made it illegal to “cause any caller identification service to knowingly transmit misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with the Intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.” Currently, criminals face fines of up to $10,000 per violation, not to exceed $10 million.
This month, Congress went even further when the House passed the Anti-Spoofing Act of 2014, which builds on the Truth in Caller ID Act to target caller ID spoofing use in new technology, including text messaging and VoIP. The bill has been sent to the Senate, where it was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and awaits approval.
The Federal Communications Commission has also stepped in with information and tips for consumers and a breakdown of the rules for telemarketers available online. Tips include:
- Don’t give out personal information in response to an incoming call. Identity thieves are clever – they often pose as representatives of banks, credit card companies, creditors, or government agencies to get people to reveal their account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords, and other identifying information.
- If you get an inquiry 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 government agency’s website to find out if the entity that supposedly called you actually needs the requested information from you.
The agency also provides information on how people can block and unblock their own telephone numbers when making interstate calls.
The surge in the use of telephone scams to lure victims into providing sensitive information has had one benefit – people are becoming increasingly vigilant in protecting their information. However, the practice appears to still succeed in many cases, since it continues to go on in spite of government penalties and fines. We encourage you to inform your friends and loved ones – especially the elderly, the young, and those unfamiliar with today’s technology – about the cons that still occur over landlines, mobile phones, and text messages. With concerns about protecting personal data while using the Internet increasingly at the forefront, it may be easy to let one’s guard down when it comes to more ‘old-fashioned’ telephone scams.
If you have caller ID and receive a call from a telemarketer without the required caller ID information, if you suspect that Caller ID information has been falsified, or you think the rules for protecting the privacy of your telephone number have been violated, you can file a complaint with the FCC through its online complaint form; call the FCC’s Consumer Center at 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; fax 1-866-418-0232; or write to the FCC’s Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division. Detailed information on the complaint process is available on the FCC’s Caller ID and Spoofing page.