Phone spoofing is the practice of making a call appear as if it is coming from a number that the recipient knows or trusts, or a number that is associated with a specific geographic location. Phone spoofing is a common practice among scammers used in assuming fake identities to lure victims into parting with money or valuable items. Caller ID spoofers may use numbers that have the same area code and the first few digits as the victims' phone numbers, hoping that they will answer the call upon noticing a familiar number. This practice is more commonly known as neighbor spoofing.
With the proliferation of smartphones and VoIP, it has become easy to spoof caller ID information by installing a spoofing application on the smartphone or by using service providers that offer caller ID spoofing. Many VoIP service providers also allow subscribers to choose the phone number they want to appear as their caller ID during set-up.
Although spoofing software or are often used for illegal purposes, the technology is not considered illegal. For instance, phone spoofing is not illegal if a doctor calls a patient on a mobile phone but displays the office number on caller ID. However, it is illegal for a caller to call anyone with inaccurate or misleading caller ID information with the purpose of defrauding or harming them.
Fraudsters use caller ID or phone spoofing to perpetrate a variety of crimes. Some of these crimes are listed below.
Impersonation scams are the commonest crimes committed through phone spoofing. An impersonation scam begins with a phone call that appears to be from a trusted source. Scammers use spoofing to make such calls appear genuine by cloning the numbers or sender IDs used by reputable organizations. Impersonation scams have several variations. One involves a phone call from someone claiming to be a government official, such as a police officer, court official, or an immigration officer. In another variation, the caller claims to be an employee or representative of a charity organization or a reputable business and tries to lure you into divulging sensitive information to send more by wire transfer.
Intimidation and Harassment
Phone spoofing technology is often used by persons to evade protection orders or to stalk, harass, and intimidate victims. Many Vermonters have reported having received calls of threatening nature, especially in cases of domestic violence where partners have been forbidden from contacting their spouses. Phone spoofing is also used by many people to play pranks on friends or strangers. Such callers make it look like calls are emanating from the victims' homes or a nearby location. Some of these pranks may be harmless while at other times, disruptive. For instance, a caller may place a call to a law enforcement authority leading them to believe a horrific crime has been committed or is in progress at a residential location. This typically results in a forceful response from the law enforcement agency, who have no way to know the call is a hoax.
Fraudulent telemarketers use spoofing technology to falsify their caller ID information to appear like legitimate businesses or organizations. This is done to trick Vermonters to buy phony products or services or invest in shady investment schemes. These telemarketers typically combine phone spoofing with robocalls to reach a large audience. Robocalls are automated calls that use auto-dialing systems to deliver pre-recorded messages to a large audience. Telemarketing robocalls may instruct you to press a certain number to speak to a live agent or undertake a survey. Both methods ultimately culminate in stealing private information or money from victims.
How Do You Know If Your Number Is Being Spoofed?
If you receive calls from people saying your phone number is showing up on their caller ID, chances are that your number has been spoofed. Receiving responses or inquiries to communications you did not initiate is a strong indicator that your number has been spoofed. You can place a message on your voicemail informing callers that your phone number is being spoofed. You should also file complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Why is Phone Spoofing Illegal?
Caller ID is a service offered by telephone service providers that allow the phone number and the name of the caller to be transmitted to inform the recipient who is calling. Most people trust the caller ID information and some organizations use it to authenticate customers. However, the upsurge in the adoption of VoIP technology and the use of smartphones has made it easy for crooked individuals to spoof caller ID information.
According to the federal Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, no entity or individual in the United States is permitted to transmit inaccurate or false caller ID information to defraud, cause harm, or illegally obtain anything of value from others. The Act permits the use of spoofing technology in certain specific cases, such as when a doctor places a call to a patient from home but displays the hospital's general call back phone number which the patient can refer to further inquiries. Callers can also remain anonymous or refrain from transmitting any identification information at all, under the Truth in Caller ID Act.
How Can You Identify and Protect Yourself from Illegal Spoofed Calls?
Identifying a spoofed call straight away can be very difficult. Modern technologies have made it harder for phone users to verify the authenticity of calls with the line between real calls and spam calls getting blurrier. Some of the measures that can be taken to prevent falling victim to phone scams in Vermont are listed below.
- Never give out personal or financial information over a phone call irrespective of how authentic a caller sounds.
- Hang up on robocalls. If you receive a call and hear pre-recorded messages, do not hesitate to hang up.
- Be wary of repeated calls from caller IDs that appear to originate from trustworthy or known sources but fail to leave any message. Such numbers are probably spoofed calls.
- Download and install a call-blocking application on your phone, such as Nomorobo, Truecaller, or Hiya. These applications are designed to block unwanted calls.
- Register your number on the National Do Not Call Registry. Telemarketers are required to avoid placing calls to numbers added to this registry. If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be a telemarketer 31 days after adding your number to the DNC register, hang up immediately and report such numbers.
- Report suspected scam calls to the Federal Communications Commission or the Federal Trade Commission online. You may also contact the FTC on 1 (888) 382-1222 or the FCC on 1 (888) 225-5322.
Does Vermont Have Anti-Spoofing Laws?
According to 9 V.S.A. § 2464a of Vermont Statutes, no person who places a telephone call to make a telephone solicitation, or to induce a charitable contribution, or gift of money or other things of value, shall transmit or cause to be transmitted to a caller identification service in use by the recipient of the call, an inaccurate caller ID information. Any telemarketer who violates this law is liable to be imprisoned for up to 18 months or fined up to $10,000 or both.
The federal anti-spoofing law, that is, the Truth in Caller ID Act forbids any person in Vermont and the rest of the United States, in connection with any telecommunications or VoIP service provider from making a caller identification service knowingly transmit misleading or false caller identification information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value. Violators of this Act are liable to pay between $10,000 and $1,000,000 for each violation.
The Federal Communications Commission has also mandated all originating and terminating voice service providers to implement caller ID authentication using STIR/SHAKEN protocols. STIR/SHAKEN allows voice service providers to cryptographically sign call signaling information and allow intermediate and destination providers to validate the signature. Hence, call recipients will be able to verify the authenticity of caller ID information.
What are Common Phone Scams involving Caller ID Spoofing in Vermont?
Scammers will try several tricks to lure targets into answering their calls. Phone spoofing scams have consistently been on the rise as a result of spoofing technology allowing fraudsters to mimic trusted caller IDs, thereby increasing the odds of targets answering spoofed calls. Vermonters who are victims of Caller ID spoofing scams can file complaints online with the FCC.
Common phone spoofing scams being perpetrated in the state of Vermont include:
- IRS imposter scams
- Grandchild imposter scams
- Lottery/Sweepstakes scams
- Computer tech support scams
- Medicare scams
- Utility bill scams
- Fake government grant scams
- Charity scams
- Social Security scams