Caller ID spoofing, or phone number spoofing, is important to understand. If you’re not familiar with this practice, let me explain:
Caller ID Is Fallible
When you receive a phone call, most phones display some identification about the inbound call. You may see:
- First Name, Last Name, Area Code and Phone Number
- Business Name, Area Code and Phone Number
- Unknown Caller
You need to know: The info shown on your Caller ID can be altered. Both the number and the name on your Caller ID display could be inaccurate or untrue. It is easy and often free for someone to change (spoof) their Caller ID info.
Phone call spoofing, as a practice, is legal in our country. But using spoofing to defraud or cause harm is illegal. If this gives you some pause, if you’re wondering why spoofing is legal at all, consider some possible legitimate uses:
- Law enforcement may need to alter their identity as they investigate crimes.
- Collections agents might spoof their Caller ID info so that a debtor won’t avoid their calls.
- A doctor or counselor may spoof their number when calling a patient to maintain a crucial level of privacy.
- Friends might use Caller ID spoofing for pranking each other, without causing harm.
Of course, the main point of this post is to talk about scams, and make you alert to them. Scammers love to use Caller ID spoofing when they call their potential victims. They know that people tend to believe what they read, especially when it flashes by quickly. Robocallers and spammers also use phone spoofing, but the biggest danger is from scams like these:
- Caller ID shows the name of a US Court System or the IRS, and the caller says you need to pay off your fine/charges now, or be incarcerated.
- Apple/Microsoft/Amazon/Facebook Support shows on the Caller ID, and a robocall tells you that your account has had suspicious activity on it. Press 1 to be connected to an agent who will help (steal) your account.
- Your bank shows on the Caller ID, and they are calling to reset your PIN and password, as someone has tried to hack into your accounts.
To be absolutely clear, the above examples are scams. The IRS, Microsoft, your bank, etc. are NOT going to call you for account changes or payments. Please hang up if you ever answer a call like these!
Scams of all kinds use spoofing to make their calls show the same area code and exchange as your number. This is called Neighbor Spoofing. They make their number look very close to your number, so that you think it is someone local to you and might answer more quickly.
It is also possible for someone to spoof your exact phone number. This can be done to confuse you and get you to answer. But it can also be done to deflect blame to you. If you ever get angry calls from other people, telling you to stop with the spam calls, understand that a bad actor may be using your number in their spoofing scheme.
How to Defend Against Call Spoofing
You’re doing it right now. Maintaining awareness that Caller ID is not to be trusted is the best defense against Caller ID spoofing. After that, you can consider some extra tactics:
- Talk to your phone provider and see if they offer/recommend any particular call screening options or apps with spoofing protection.
- Put your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry.
- Don’t answer unfamiliar numbers. Let every unexpected mystery call roll to voicemail.
- Report persistent spoofing problems to your phone carrier and/or the police.