Caller ID spoofing has long since garnered infamy as a tool used for prank calling, scamming, and, most recently, swatting. And with the emergence of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, spoofing has become even easier to abuse, as scammers and pranksters can now almost-effortlessly call you from anywhere in the world.
As such, instances of spoofing abuse have risen in recent years. In 2014, just over half the complaints filed to the Federal Trade Commission concerned phone scams, up 14% from the previous year. In 2016, the most recent statistics, that number has risen to 77% – a fact that flies in the face of the clear-cut laws regarding spoofing, which make it illegal to spoof “with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.”
Note: While I was able to research FCC complaints, I was unable to find statistics regarding convictions. So while it is true that phone scams are increasing in frequency, the success rate for convictions is uncertain.
And with call scamming on the rise, it’s important to know how to protect yourself, and you can protect yourself against most any phone scam by following a simple, two-step process.
Yes, it sounds cliché. But it’s the single-most effective way to avoid being scammed. Even if the person on the other end is well-spoken and sounds earnest, don’t trust them – don’t give them any information whatsoever. Again, it doesn’t matter who they are, where they say they’re from, or where the caller ID says they’re from. It is safest not to trust any phone call you get from someone you don’t already know.
If you dial a spoofed number, it will either be disconnected or you will connect with the actual owner of that phone number – at which point you can both file complaints to the FCC.
But if you’re on the phone with someone who might be scamming you, ask them for a call back number. If they provide you with a different number than their call ID shows, that’s suspicious. If they feed you a line about their phone systems being one-way, that’s even more suspicious. If they provide you with the same number they are calling you from, then you have the opportunity to look it up.
Protecting yourself from spoofing abuse is easy. Just remain diligent, don’t trust numbers you don’t know, and don’t give any personal information over the phone.
With all that said, it has to be acknowledged that not all spoofing is bad, and there are important reasons why the feature hasn’t been outlawed altogether.
For example, when law enforcement are searching for suspects, persons of interests, or even missing persons, they can use spoofing as a tool to help locate them. With spoofing, they can appear as though they are calling from a number that belongs to a friend or family member of the person in question, who will then be more likely to pick up the phone and thus be trackable.
In another case, a domestic abuse victim may be and feel safer by hiding her or his phone number and location.
In yet another case, business owners, healthcare professionals, or teachers may need to make calls from their personal lines but not want people to know their info. They can spoof their numbers to appear as their respective businesses, hospitals, or schools, thus remaining private while also being professional.