One of the ways robocallers and spam callers mask their identities, according to BGR.com, is by "spoofing" local numbers. If a number looks familiar, you're probably more likely to pick up the call.
“That’s the reason, according to Hiya, that around 9 percent of spam calls a month actually get answered by phone owners even though they don’t recognize the number calling,” BGR reported last month, after Hiya published a U.S.-specific version of the global analysis called the State of the Phone Call.
Of the top American area codes targeted by spammers, Atlanta's "404" area code is among the top six. In fact, last year, there were approximately 104,613,003 unwanted "404" spam calls, according to the Robocall Radar report.
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To help combat this phenomenon known as "neighbor spoofing," the FCC is urging the phone industry to adopt a robust caller ID authentication system.
On Feb. 14, the agency also proposed rules "banning illegal spoofed text messages and international calls," rules that would enable it to "address consumer concerns."
Spoofing with the intent to defraud or harm has been illegal since the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, but until recently, protections did not extend to text messages or international calls.
"The Commission received more than 52,000 complaints about spoofed calls in 2018. It is widely believed that many spoofed calls originate from overseas call centers," the FCC wrote in a statement. "Combatting these unwanted calls is the agency's top consumer protection priority."
Consumer Reports has also launched a petition urging the FCC to "require phone companies to adopt call-verification technology" in an effort to "stop harmful 'spoofed' robocalls. You can sign your name at action.consumerreports.org.
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What exactly is neighbor spoofing?
This involves spoofing caller ID to match the first six digits of your phone number (area code and local exchange) to make an incoming call look familiar, like it’s coming from a local neighbor, retailer or the like.
What do I do if my number is being spoofed?
Is your number showing up on someone's caller ID even though you haven't been calling them? Your digits are likely being spoofed. Be sure to inform the person who has received spoofed calls from your number that it wasn't you and consider making a note in your voicemail that your number is being spoofed. Luckily, "usually scammers switch numbers frequently," according to the FCC. "It is likely that within hours they will no longer be using your number."
Is spoofing ever legal?
Sure. The FCC points out that some incidents of legal spoofing may include: “when a doctor calls a patient from her personal mobile phone and displays the office number rather than the personal phone number or a business displays its toll-free call-back number.”
"It's not just the caller ID that shows up, but what's said during the call that determines whether there's any kind of violation of the law or not," Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at the Consumer Federation of America, told Tom's Guide last year. "Obviously, if somebody says that they are someone that they are not for the purposes of tricking you into giving your money or personal information under false pretenses, then that's a problem."
What are the penalties for illegal spoofing?
According to the FCC, “anyone who is illegally spoofing can face penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation.”
Tips to avoid spoofing scams, according to the FCC:
- Don't know the number? Don't pick up.
- Send any unsolicited calls to voicemail.
- If you do answer—and you're asked to hit a button to stop getting such calls—just hang up. According to the agency, this is a trick scammers use to identify potential targets.
- If you answer an unexpected call, do not respond to questions or give out any personal information. And if you're being pressed for information, be cautious.
- If you get a call from someone who says they're part of a government agency or company, hang up and call the number you see on your latest account statement or on the official website to verify the authenticity of the request.
- If someone asks for a payment, know that "you will usually get a written statement in the mail before you get a phone call from a legitimate source," according to the FCC.
- Set up a voicemail password if you have the option. Hackers who spoof your home numbers may be able to gain access to your voicemail if you don't have a password set up.
- Visit fcc.gov/robocalls to find blocking tools available, including apps (like Call Control) that you can download to your phone.
How to report spoofing or robocalls