Phone spoofing is the use of technology to alter the caller ID when making a call, with the intent to trick the receiver into thinking the call is from a trusted person or organization. It simply means your caller deliberately falsified the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity. Scammers commonly use it.
Between January 1, 2015, and June 29, 2017, the Identity Theft Unit of South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs (SCDCA) recorded over 2,500 scam complaints concerning consumers’ unsolicited telephone calls. Practically all of the reports (99%) were related to imposter scams as the central theme. The huge success of this scam can be attributed to the use of caller ID spoofing technology.
Caller ID spoofing has been available for some time now and has been used for legitimate purposes. However, the growing popularity of VoIP telephony has made the technology available to virtually anyone, making it relatively easy for scammers to operate.
To access the service, scammers engage the services of websites that offer spoofing for a fee. On the site, the scammer inputs the phone number of their targets and the fake information that will appear on the target’s caller ID display. When the call goes through, it displays false or spoofed ID information on the recipient's Caller ID. Some VoIP providers also make the service available to their subscribers on request.
Scammers use spoofing to hide their real phone numbers just to defraud their targets. A common method used is "neighbor spoofing" - they use familiar area codes and phone numbers to make the call seem like it is coming from people close to the target. They also spoof the phone numbers of organizations that residents regularly use to commit several types of crimes. The most common spoofing scams in South Carolina include:
This is one of the most dangerous phone scams in South Carolina. Here, scammers cause the Caller ID device to display the telephone number and name of the recipient's local bank, credit union, the IRS, or other trusted organizations. The method exploits consumers’ trust in these organizations, making them more likely to divulge confidential account information. The scammer then uses such information to steal the victim's money or use their identity to make unauthorized charges and claims.
Scammers pose as legitimate telemarketers to contact residents. They sometimes use robocalls to play prerecorded scamming scripts capable of convincing their targets to divulge confidential information. Scammers also make live calls to offer targets mouthwatering business investments and other bogus services.
Tech Support Scam
Here, scammers use tech companies’ caller ID to pose as computer techs calling for routine support service. Claiming to have detected malware or virus on the receiver's computer, the caller requests remote access to the computer to remove the malware. Through this, they gain control of the system and steal personal and financial information on the system. Also, the unsuspecting victim is made to pay for the installation of some bogus software they do not need.
Why Is Phone Spoofing Illegal?
According to the Truth in Caller ID Act, FCC rules prohibit persons from transmitting misleading or false caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongly obtain anything of value. However, spoofing is not always illegal; an exception to the rule is made for law enforcement investigative purposes - when police officers need to disguise their phone numbers to contact suspects. Therefore, Caller ID spoofing is illegal when used to harass, defraud, and unlawfully obtain information and valuables from people.
Most telephone frauds are made possible by caller ID spoofing. Scammers use spoofed numbers to obtain social security numbers and other sensitive information. Healthcare scams are also carried out using spoofed numbers. The receiver is made to believe the call is from the hospital where a relative is receiving emergency treatment and needs money for medical aid.
Arming the telephone industry to target “spoofed” numbers would dramatically decrease the number of spoofing related scams.
How Do You Know If Your Number is Being Spoofed?
One sure way to tell that scammers have spoofed your phone number is when there is a sudden influx of calls or SMS on your phone, responding to communication you did not initiate. This may be as a result of scammers stealing your identity and using it for illegal transactions.
To find out if your number has been spoofed, you may do a reverse phone lookup for the number. You may also try to return the phone call. If it is out of service, you can be confident it is a spoofed number. To stop this, contact the FCC immediately by calling 1-888-CALL FCC (225-5322), or filing an online report.
How Can You Protect Yourself from Illegal Spoofed Calls?
Although it may be challenging to be able to detect if an incoming call is spoofed, some measures can be taken to avoid being scammed by phone scammers:
- Do not answer calls from unknown numbers, and if you do so unconsciously, hang up immediately.
- Install or activate phone call blocking tools and authenticate the source of an app before downloading it on your mobile device. The FCC allows phone companies to block robocalls by default based on reasonable analytics.
- Do not respond to any questions that can be answered with a "Yes" or "No" while answering a call.
- Hang up any call where the caller or recording prompts you to hit a specific key to stop getting the calls. Such tricks are often used to identify potential targets by scammers.
- Do not ever give out personal information on the phone. This includes account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother's maiden names, passwords, or other identifying information.
- If you get an inquiry from someone claiming to represent a company or a government agency, hang up immediately. Then, call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company or government agency's website to verify the request. Most legitimate organizations usually send a written statement to your mail before you receive a phone call from them. They also never ask for payment via phone calls.
- Register your number on the Do Not Call List provided by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to stop receiving spoofed robocalls.
- Set a password for your voicemail account. Some voicemail services have a default setting that allows access if the call is from your phone number. Hackers can spoof your home phone number to control your voicemail if it is not pass-worded.
- Check your voicemail periodically to avoid missing important calls and always delete spam calls that might fill your voicemail box.
- Report all Caller ID spoofing to the FTC and FCC. You may call the FTC at 1 (888) 382-1222, and the FCC on 1 (888) 225-5322
Does South Carolina Have Anti-Spoofing Laws?
Yes, in 2018, the South Carolina Telephone Privacy Protection Act (Bill 4628) was passed to outlaw scammers spoofing caller IDs in the state. Section 37-21-50(A) of the Act specifically prohibits the falsification of Caller ID information. In view of this provision, the state prohibits a caller (with the intent described above) from displaying:
- South Carolina area code on the recipient's caller ID system unless the caller maintains a physical presence in the State.
- The receiving party's telephone number on the party's caller identification system.
Violation of this law earns the defaulter a fine of $1,000 for each violation, payable to the called party (Section 37-21-80). In addition, if the court establishes a willful violation, it may, in its discretion, increase the fine to an amount above $5,000 for each violation.
The federal version of the anti-spoofing law is the 2009 FCC’s Truth in Caller ID Act. The law prohibits anyone within the country from conniving with any telecommunications or VoIP service provider to enable a caller ID service to deliberately transmit a fake and misleading ID information to the receiving party to criminally obtain something of value or to defraud and cause them harm.
The law makes exceptions for specific law enforcement purposes, such as anonymous investigative calls; customers and government officials are also allowed to retain some anonymity by not transmitting any ID at all.
The penalty for defaulters is within the range of $10,000 to $1,000,000 for each violation of the act. As part of measures to enforce this law, the FCC recently proposed a $225 Million fine after investigations revealed that telemarketers made over a billion unsolicited calls to Americans within five months, including those registered on the Do Not Call List.
In addition, the Commission recently adopted additional measures towards combating spoofing scams by mandating voice service providers to implement the STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication framework in the IP portions of their networks. STIR/SHAKEN are acronyms for “Secure Telephone Identity Revisited (STIR) and Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using Tokens (SHAKEN) standards.” This system digitally validates the handoff of phone calls that pass through interconnected networks. It allows the service provider of the person receiving a call to verify that each call actually originated from the number displayed on Caller ID.
What are the Common Phone Scams Involving Caller ID Spoofing in South Carolina?
Scammers use caller identification spoofing to increase the response rate to their calls, and ultimately their chances of scamming people. They spoof their numbers to reflect government agencies and other well-known, trusted organizations to gain the recipient's trust. If you have become a target of spoofing scams, file a complaint online with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Or call the office at 1-888-CALL FCC (225-5322).
Here is a list of common phone spoofing scams in South Carolinians:
- Banking/ Financial Institution scams
- Impersonation/ Imposters scams
- Coronavirus scams
- Mystery shopper scams
- Insurance scams
- Tech support scams
- Medicare/ Medicaid scams
- Telemarketing scams
- Utility bill scams
- Debt collection scams
- Fake Charity scams
- Hotel Room scams