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Caller ID Spoofing — What is it?

By Brian Gabriel
Chief Operations Officer
Last Updated August 2012


This article explains what “caller ID spoofing” is, the potential hazard and actions to take if you are a victim of it.

Caller ID Spoofing happens when a telephone network is made to produce a telephone number on a call recipient’s caller ID display to be different than the number that is actually placing the call. Normally, caller ID display works like this:

  1. Caller “206-555-1212” calls a friend on his cell phone
  2. The friend, whose number is 425-555-1212 has a caller ID display that tells him he is receiving a call from “206-555-1212”

Most everyone that has a cell phone or a phone device that can display an incoming caller ID knows that this is how phone systems normally work. The local carrier network basically passes along the caller ID of the originator of the call. But what happens if the number shown on your caller ID is fake? That is what is known as “Caller ID Spoofing.”

Let’s use another example. Let’s say that you are sitting comfortably at home and you get a call from a number you don’t recognize. You look at the caller ID display and write down the number. You ignore the call and the caller does not leave a voice mail. Then, about 5 minutes later, you get another call from the same number. You ignore it. Another call….you ignore that one. Now this is getting ridiculous. The same number calls you about 10 times in a row. Now you are angry so you pick up the phone. The caller states that he is from the local fire department and is raising money for firefighters. You scream at the caller and tell him to take you off his list and hang up. Then you get another call. And another. And another.

Frustrated, you go online and you “Google” the caller ID. Sure enough, the number is listed online as the local fire department. But why would the local fire department call you so many times in a row and harass you into giving money? They wouldn’t. So you call the fire department the next day and speak to the fire chief. He sounds bewildered because nobody on his staff is making outbound calls to raise money. You tell him sternly that you have a record on your caller ID of approximately 15 calls that you received from his number the prior evening. The fire chief emphatically denies that his staff made the calls. So what is going on here? You’ve just been spoofed. An illegal telemarketing organization has your number and they are spoofing you relentlessly, hoping that you will fall for their con and give them money.

So how did this happen? Unfortunately, spoofing is extremely prevalent with the use of modern SmartPhones. People can actually download applications that can confuse the local telephone networks and allow callers to display whatever caller ID they choose. This is a problem because as far as the local telephone network can tell, that IS the number that the call is originating from. You can call your local phone company, tell them you are being harassed by the local fire department and have them trace the call — directly to the local fire department! Both you and the fire chief are victims of unscrupulous con artists that are using spoofing technology to hide who they really are. These scammers will stop at nothing to vigorously pursue and stalk you in attempts to steal your money or make your life plain miserable.

Spoofing technology has actually been available for a number of years. But it was not always known as spoofing because the technology was being used by legitimate telemarketing call centers for legitimate purposes. For example, let’s say a company, “XYZ Life”, wants to initiate an outbound telemarketing campaign to 5,000 of its customers to let them know that there has been an important change made to their homeowner’s insurance policy. XYZ Life enlists the help of a reputable call center to make these important outbound calls. XYZ Life wants to ensure that their main office number is displayed on the caller ID of each and every outgoing call. Why? So XYZ Life’s customers know who is calling them and have a way of returning the call directly to XYZ Life. Makes sense, right? It’s also the law. Proper caller ID must be displayed by a telemarketing firm to legitimize the call.

Spoofers are using this same technology to generate thousands of illegal telemarketing calls on a daily basis. Victims will contact their local phone company to block the incoming calls by the caller ID. But this doesn’t even stop a spoofer. Most phone companies limit the number of caller ID’s that you can block on your lines. That number is usually around 5 or 6 numbers. Spoofers continually change their outgoing caller ID’s and keep calling and calling and calling. Frustrated spoofing victims cannot seem to get away from highly motivated spoofers.

So what do you do?

First, you must contact the Federal Communications Commission and file a complaint. They will walk you through a 7-step process to effectively file a claim. You can explain to the FCC that you contacted what you thought was the business only to find out that it wasn’t them calling you. The FCC knows all about spoofing and will document your complaint. As a courtesy, you can let the business owner whose number has been used illegally know that you are filing a complaint. Reporting spoofing to the business owner is helpful because it will tip the owner off to the fact that they must contact the Federal Trade Commission.

What do you do if you are the business owner whose number has been used for spoofing? You will probably start receiving random calls from frustrated individuals that are yelling at you to insist that you take them off of your calling list. This is your tip that your business numbers are being used for illegal purposes. You must immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and file a complaint. The FTC will document your claim that you are not the actual outbound telemarketer and that you are aware that your number is being used illegally. As a business owner, you must file a report with the FTC. If you do not, the complaints with the FCC will start to stack up against you and you could become liable for something that really isn’t your fault at all.

The plain fact of the matter is that there is absolutely no way to stop spoofing. Why? Because it is not illegal.

How is that possible???!!!

Let’s clear that statement up: It is not illegal to use spoofing technology. However, it is illegal to use spoofing technology for illegal purposes. Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave spoofing victims with much recourse. There is really no way to stop spoofers from calling you. At this point in time, the best you can do is to keep contacting your local phone company and have them keep blocking incoming spoof calls. Usually, spoofers will give up after a while and move to a new calling area.

Brian Gabriel is the Chief Operations Officer for Sound Telecom, a 24 hour Telephone Answering and Call Center Service company, headquartered in Seattle serving customers throughout the United States with USA based agents.



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About Andrew Tillery

Born and raised in Oregon, Andrew has now put down roots in Seattle, because he refuses to call anywhere but the Pacific Northwest home. After graduating from Portland State University with a double major in Marketing and Advertising, he spent some time learning Spanish and experiencing all that South America has to offer. It was while he was south of the equator that he uncovered an interest in writing that he strives to develop whenever the opportunity is presented. When Andrew isn't taking care of business at the office, he is throwing fuel on his fiery passions for sports and the outdoors.