Robocalls and Caller ID Spoofing: Protecting Yourself from Phone Scams

A Robocaller using Caller ID Spoofing to trick people into answering the phone.

Robocallers are not this cute in real life, they are dangerous con-artists who want to steal your personal information.

A few weeks ago, I was at the Poke Salat Festival in Arab, AL, when a customer approached me to ask why OTELCO was selling phone numbers to telemarketers. She said she would receive these calls from local OTELCO numbers, answer the call assuming it was someone in town trying to reach her, and then get accosted by some scammer.

OTELCO is not selling numbers to telemarketers, but what that customer was experiencing is something anyone with a cell phone will find relatable. She was target by a Robocaller, using a technique called Caller ID Spoofing. Robocalls have become increasingly out of control in the digital age, making 5.2 billion calls just in March of 2019. Considering the scope of these calls, we decided it’s important to share some important information about Robocalls and Caller ID Spoofing.

Caller ID and Neighbor Spoofing

Caller ID Spoofing allows Robocallers to hide behind other phone numbers to disguise their identity. Most Spoofers use third-party apps because of the complicated nature of running their own operations. Caller ID Spoofing has become successful because consumers have been trained via experience not to answer calls from 800 numbers, or even numbers out of state.

The most common type of Spoofing is Neighbor Spoofing. This goes back to what the customer I spoke to in Alabama was experiencing when a local number would pop up on her phone and then turn out to be a scammer. Robocallers can mimic the first six digits of any phone number to convince you the call is local.

Legality

An obvious question that comes to most of our minds when talking about Caller ID Spoofing is “how is this legal?” For one, there are legitimate reasons a business might use Caller ID Spoofing. According to the FCC, many companies will display their toll-free number when calling a customer instead of an office number. It is because of situations like this that Spoofing isn’t outright illegal, but there are consequences for Robocallers using Caller ID Spoofing to scam consumers.

Under the Truth Caller ID Act, FCC rules “prohibit anyone from transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongly obtain anything of value.” There is a $10,000 fine for those that violate the act. Last week, a new act passed the Senate that would extend the FCC’s ability to punish Robocallers. The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED), a bipartisan proposal that the Senate passed last Thursday, May 23, will allow the FCC to increase fines and statute of limitations for Robocall cases, create a task force to address the Robocall problem and push carriers to deploy authentication services that would protect their customers from Robocallers.

How to Protect Yourself

TRACED needs to pass the House of Representatives where there are already many other anti-Robocall bills. Until then, here some are ways you can keep yourself safe:

Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers, even if it does seem local. If it is a legitimate caller, they will leave a voicemail, and you can call them back.

• If you do pick up, and it isn’t whom you expect, hang up immediately.

Don’t engage with Robocallers. Don’t even answer yes or no questions. If the caller, or more likely a recording, prompts you to push a number to be “taken off their calling list” do not do it. Any engagement lets them know they have reached a real number and encourages them to call more.

• Check with your phone company or cell phone carrier about tools they have to prevent Robocallers (OTELCO recommends customers to the National Do Not Call Registry)

• There are apps you can download on your mobile phone to help you. (Recently the Washington Times wrote an article about the best Robocaller apps out there that is very helpful.)

• Make sure your phone-based voicemail service is password protected. A scammer could Spoof your number and gain access to your voicemail as if they were calling from your phone.

Never EVER give out personal information over the phone or online (like your social security number, bank account numbers, passwords, etc.). Some of the biggest Robocall scams use Caller ID Spoofing to mimic the numbers of government agencies, financial institutions, utility companies, and other business you would recognize. When one of these institutions needs to reach you, they will reach out by mail first. If you are unsure of the legitimacy of the call and want to double check, hang up and call the business directly. On the occasion that you ever do give out sensitive information, contact the Social Security Administration immediately.

For more information on Robocallers and Caller ID Spoofing scams visit the FCC online, by clicking here. They have a lot of useful information on how to protect yourself, and others from these phone scammers.