Caller ID is a brilliant piece of technology that lets you see who is calling before you pick up. (Seriously, who hasn’t used it to avoid a call from a telemarketer?)
But, here’s what you might not know: the information displayed on Caller ID can be faked.
Scammers spoof the information that appears on your phone’s display—including showing a local area code—to trick you into thinking someone important is calling.
Spoofers make it look you’re being called by banks, creditors, insurance companies, utility companies, the government—or heck, even Microsoft support in a recent scam attempt—but it’s actually a scammer calling.
The goal is to appear like someone credible to trick you into answering questions and revealing personal information. They’re looking for account/credit card numbers, social security numbers, your mother’s maiden name, or passwords, etc. Anything they can use or sell.
How it works
According to Lifewire, one of the most popular ways to spoof a number is to use a Caller ID spoofing company (yes, they’re out there).
Scammers start by purchasing credits and dial in using their access or PIN. After that, they enter the recipient’s number and how they would like their fake name to appear on Caller ID. It’s just that easy.
Once the spoofing is in place, scammers hope the Caller ID gets you to pick up and talk with them. They might tell you need to make a late payment, ask you to verify account information, or tell you they detected errors on your computer—whatever they think will fool you into sharing information.
Yes, it’s legal
It’s completely legal to spoof a call…as long as you’re not attempting to defraud, cause harm, or wrongly obtain anything of value.
If you’re not doing any of these things, it’s totally okay. So, for example, you could use a Caller ID spoofing company (SpoofCard is one) to surprise your child with a call from the tooth fairy, or use it to make secret shopper calls as part of your job.
It’s not the same as blocking
The FCC requires phone companies to make phone number blocking available free for all calls between states (states make decisions about in-state calls). If you see a Caller ID of “unknown number,” it’s probably been blocked, not spoofed.
Note: you can block the delivery of your name and number to the party you’re calling on a per-call basis by dialing *67 before the number.
What you can do
It may not be obvious at first that you’re being spoofed. Be careful and follow FCC’s guidelines for what to do:
- Never give out personal information to an unexpected caller. This includes account information, payment information, social security numbers, your mother’s maiden name, and passwords. The same goes if you think the call is suspicious (and if someone is calling you asking for information, you should be!).
- Verify the request for information is real. If you get a call requesting you provide information, make note of who is asking for it and call them back. Find a number on an account statement, in the phone book, or the company/agency’s website so you know the number is legitimate.
- If you’re being pressured to provide information immediately, be cautious. The scammers use pressure tactics to catch you off guard and get you to share information.