(Long Island, NY) Caller ID telling you that the IRS or local government is calling you one fine afternoon? You might want to think twice before picking up that call.
Caller ID lets consumers avoid unwanted phone calls by displaying caller names and phone numbers, but the caller ID feature is sometimes manipulated by an act known as “spoofing,” a recent trend in the phone scam world where people masquerade as representatives of banks, creditors, insurance companies, or even the government; the caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity. For example, a spoofer could literally have an unaware victim actually think they’re calling from the Internal Revenue Service because that’s exactly what it will actually say on their caller ID screen.
With their foot already in the door, digitally speaking, the spoofer will have an easier time of fooling the unsuspecting individual and possibly gaining access to their money or even worse. Spoofing is often used as part of an attempt to trick someone into giving away valuable personal information so it can be used in fraudulent activity or sold illegally. U.S. law and FCC rules prohibit most types of spoofing, but obviously that doesn’t always help when you find yourself on the wrong end of a phone from a scam artist out to separate you from your money.
“They have the technology through their software now, where the number actually shows up as the people who they say they are,” said U.S. Assistant Attorney General Chuck Munson. “For instance, the IRS, it shows up as a legitimate IRS number. It’s almost a type of art.”
Every year, millions of dollars are swindled from innocent people through phone scams, many of them the elderly who were likely brought up in a bygone time where they were taught to be trusting of unknown callers, and it is this trust – and the added edge that spoofing gives – that allows scammers to drain their wallets with alarming and increasing frequency, according to the FBI.
“People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting,” they said. “Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say ‘no’ or just hang up the telephone.”
It’s as simple as looking up a name in the local Whitepages directory and going from there; thankfully, those very same Whitepages are leading the charge against spoofing with some cutting-edge technology that helps expose these fraudulent callers for the charlatans that they are.
For your protection, there are several different apps you can download for your phone that effectively identify and block spoofed calls. Among these apps are White Pages Current, which checks the origin of any incoming call and cross-references it against legitimate phone numbers to determine if it is real, often doing so with a great deal of success; other apps that also work are Truecaller and PrivacyStar. Hiya, an app developed by the Whitepages spin-off company of the same name, is also effective in this regard.
However, nothing is foolproof, and the Federal Communications Commission offers the following tips on what to do if you suspect you are indeed on the phone with a spoofer:
- Never give out personal information such as account numbers, social security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious
- If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency seeking personal information, 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 verify the authenticity of the request
- Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately
- If you have a voice mail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it. Some voicemail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number. A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voicemail if you don’t set a password
If you are the victim of fraud or identity theft, do not wait to report it; the Federal Trade Commission has published a comprehensive personal recovery plan outlining steps for you to take, but the most important steps are reporting the scam, freezing your accounts, and placing fraud alerts on credit reports. The sooner you act, the easier it is to recover.