Caller ID Spoofing – Caller fakes Big Piney phone number
by Dawn Ballou, Pinedale Online!
June 17, 2008
This morning we received a phone call which showed up as a local Big Piney phone number on the Caller ID. Upon answering, a recorded “Kristy” went into a short pitch for a great deal on health insurance, ending by encouraging us to press “3” to talk with a customer service representative.
Most everyone gets these kinds of recorded sales pitches every day. The puzzling part of this one was that it displayed a Big Piney phone number in the Caller ID when it seemed clear this probably wasn’t a service provided by any of our local Big Piney businesses. So we called the number back to see who might be making this call from 276-0014. The number returned the musical tone and recorded message from the phone company, “do-de-dah, We’re sorry, you have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service.” That seemed strange. We just got a call from that number, according to the Caller ID.
So we called CenturyTel customer service and asked about it. A very nice lady explained that there are companies and devices that allow people to mask or change their Caller ID number that comes up on the display. Apparently spoofing the Caller ID number is not illegal in the U.S., except for in cases where fraud occurs. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules prohibit telemarketers from blocking Caller ID information and require them to pass accurate caller ID numbers. However, for calls done for pranks, amusement, or revenge, it is perfectly legal to alter the Caller ID number.
A quick Google search found several companies that offer special phone cards to do this service with them, for a fee. Their websites explaining the service give a number of flimsy, but plausible, excuses why someone might want to hide their real phone number: to get their teenager to answer the phone from their parent; professionals wanting to call patients but don’t want their real cell phone number to get out; pranksters wanting to pull one over on a friend; law enforcement uses. The process is as easy as punching in three phone numbers: your own number, the number you wish to call, and the number you want to show up on the phone Caller ID display when the call is made. Any 10 digit number can be used. Not only will the number show up, but also the name registered for that number would automatically appear. Voices can be altered to male or female during the call. Cost for spoofcards, which can be purchased online, are $10 for 60 minutes, with cards with up to 8-hours worth of spoof calling time for $80. For those using voice over IP, faking Caller ID is as easy as editing a configuration file on the computer.
There may be some people who need this service for legitimate purposes, but clearly this technology is being used be crooks wanting to mask unsolicited sales calls and get around the Do Not Call legislation and the fines for unsolicited sales calls.
Unsuspecting victims who rely on the Caller ID number to screen their calls will answer a recognized number and potentially fall for the pitch of a slick salesperson or con artist to give out confidential information. More sinister uses include stalking and a whole host of identify theft purposes.
Imagine the Caller ID showing up as the local bank in Big Piney or Pinedale and the representative says they are verifying account information and just need you to answer a few quick questions (social security number, mother’s maiden name, account pin number…) Minutes later your account is cleaned out.
An online article on the topic of Caller ID spoofing tells of another variation where a victim receives a phone call claiming they missed jury duty and asks for their Social Security number. The call seems legitimate because the Caller ID displays the number for the local courthouse.
A big concern is people being tricked by calls appearing to come from their bank, credit card company or a government agency and persuading victims to give up their personal identity and financial information that a thief can use to empty their bank account, open a new account, apply for loans or obtain credit cards.
In 2006, legislation was proposed to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to prohibit manipulation of caller identification information. This bill, H.R. 5126: Truth in Caller ID Act of 2006, never became law. In 2007, another version was submitted to the Senate, S.704- Truth in Caller ID Act of 2007, to prohibit manipulation of caller identification information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value. Prohibitions would apply to both traditional telephone and voice over internet protocol services. This bill was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar on December 5, 2007. It is in the first stage of the legislative process where the bill is considered in committee and may undergo significant changes. It has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee.
While the legislation gets considered in committees at the federal level, a number of states have begun to pass their own laws under deceptive trade practices and consumer fraud acts. These laws still only prohibit Caller ID spoofing for fraud purposes. Uses by individuals for amusement or revenge is still legal.
If you have caller ID and receive a call from a telemarketer without the required caller ID information, if you suspect that Caller ID information has been falsified, or you think the rules for protecting the privacy of your telephone number have been violated, you can file a complaint with the FCC. You can file your complaint electronically using the on-line complaint Form 1088 found on the FCC Web site at www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html. You can also file your complaint by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org; calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; faxing 1-866-418-0232; or writing to:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554
How to protect yourself:
1. Don’t give out personal information such as your Social Security Number, driver’s license number, credit card account information or bank account information over the phone. Banks, credit card companies and government offices typically do not call over the phone to confirm this information. They do this via mail.
2. If you think the call is legitimate, call the organization back yourself using a phone number you obtain from an independent source you get yourself. Don’t use the number they give you as their contact number. Look it up in the phone book or get it off your official paperwork from that company and call back to verify the person and request for your confidential information.
3. Report suspicious phone calls to local law enforcement and any local organization that appears to have their number being used for fraudulent purposes.
For those wanting to research more on this topic, the following keywords provide links to a lot of good articles and reports: Caller-ID spoofing, Caller-ID Fraud, Caller-ID masking, Identity Spoofing, Anti-Spoofing Legislation, Truth in Caller ID Act of 2007.