Phone spoofing describes the action of a caller that deliberately falsified the information transmitted to the caller ID display of the call recipient to disguise their identity. Con artists often use neighbor spoofing which makes it appear like their calls are coming from their targets’ neighbors or local companies and trusted government agencies. Once the target answers the call, the scammer tries any of a number of ploys to steal money or valuable personal information from them.
With the rapid adoption of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone services, scammers now find it easier to make spoofed phone calls. Many VoIP service providers allow users to choose their preferred numbers or names to display on caller IDs when they set up their accounts. Some phone service providers even offer spoofing services that operate like prepaid calling cards. They allow customers to pay for PIN codes to use when calling, allowing them to choose both the destination numbers and the numbers they want to appear on recipients’ caller IDs.
Pursuant to the Truth in Caller ID Act, the United States considers phone spoofing illegal when used to harass, defraud, or unlawfully obtain anything of value from a call recipient. However, the Act makes certain exemptions for law enforcement purposes.
Common phone scams perpetrated Caller ID phone spoofing include:
Scammers falsify their caller IDs to impersonate legitimate telemarketing companies and government agencies such as the Inland Revenue Service (IRS). The scammer tries to earn the trust of the target or trick the target to act in fear in order to obtain sensitive or personal information that may be used in identity theft or to steal money.
Minnesota residents sometimes answer phone calls from numbers that appear to be those of trusted organizations only to find out they picked robocalls programmed to automatically deliver pre-recorded messages. A typical robocall message instructs the target to answer a few survey questions and to speak to a live agent by pressing a button on their phone. If the call recipient obeys this prompt, they will be connected to a live agent, a scammer, who will try to trick the target into divulging personal information. The survey questions are also designed to achieve the same aim which allows the scammer to use the target's personal data for fraudulent acts.
Many Minnesota residents have reported answering calls which appeared to be coming from their friends and neighbors, only to have the callers harass or prank them. Although some of these pranks can be harmless, some have escalated from verbal abuse to threats of violence and death threats.
Why Is Phone Spoofing Illegal?
Phone Spoofing is illegal in Minnesota when the caller intends to defraud or wrongfully obtain any valuable item from the call recipient. Under the Truth in Caller ID Act, the Federal Communications Commission forbids anyone from transmitting inaccurate or misleading caller ID information with the intention to cause harm or con the call recipient.
Scammers find phone spoofing useful in falsifying caller identification names or numbers which allows them to pose as friends, neighbors, and reputable businesses and charities. Scammers are more likely to earn the trust of targets if they can assume the identities of these familiar and known entities. Phone spoofing also allows scammers to evade identification.
How Do You Know If Your Number Is Being Spoofed?
If you start receiving phone calls, text messages, or voice messages to conversations you did not initiate, chances are that your number has been spoofed by a fraudster. If your number has been spoofed, it may have been used in illegal activities. To avoid possible consequences of any illegal activities, contact the FCC on 1-888-CALL FCC (225-5322) or file a complaint with the Commission online.
How Can You Identify and Protect Yourself from Illegal Spoofed Calls?
Crooked individuals who use spoofing typically attempt to commit crimes and tend to ignore established means of stopping unwanted calls. Minnesotans may follow these steps to protect themselves against illegal spoofed calls:
- Register your number on the National Do Not Call Registry.
- Contact your phone company to find out if they offer features that block unsolicited calls, such as selective ringing, selective call acceptance, and selective blocking. Some of these may be available at no cost on your phone.
- Install a call-blocking application on your phone that will help block unsolicited calls from scammers and spoofed numbers.
- Hang up as soon you realize a call is from a scammer or from an organization or person you do not know. It is not rude to hang up on anyone trying to scam you.
- Report spoofed calls to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Federal Trade Commission. You may also reach the FTC on 1 (888) 382-1222 and the FCC on 1 (888) 225-5322. The FCC and FTC have the authority to enforce federal laws that regulate ID spoofing, robocalls, and interstate fraud perpetrated over the phone.
Does Wisconsin Have Anti-Spoofing Laws?
Pursuant to Section 325E.312 of Minnesota Statutes, no caller who makes a telephone solicitation to a residential subscriber in the state may knowingly use any method to block or otherwise deliberately circumvent the subscriber’s use of a caller identification service. The statute requires any caller who makes a telephone solicitation to state their identity clearly at the beginning of the call and, if requested, their telephone number. Callers are also prohibited from making any form of telephone solicitation to the telephone lines of residential subscribers whose numbers are on the no-call list.
The federal anti-spoofing law, the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, makes it illegal to spoof caller IDs where the intention of the caller is to defraud, cause harm, or unlawfully obtain anything of value. Anyone who runs afoul of the law runs the risk of losing at least $10,000 in civil forfeiture.
In line with the Federal Communication Commission's mandate, phone service providers are expected to have implemented SHAKEN/STIR by June 2021, a caller ID authentication framework to combat caller ID spoofing and illegal robocalls. Once implemented, the SHAKEN/STIR protocol will enable call recipients to ensure the legitimacy of caller IDs as they are presented on their phones.
What are Common Phone Scams involving Caller ID Spoofing in Minnesota?
As Minnesota residents try to screen unwanted phone calls, unscrupulous telemarketers and scammers are looking for new ways to lure people to answer calls. Phone spoofing has become an increasingly common technique used by scammers to impersonate others to gain trust..
The most common phone spoofing scams experienced by Minnesotans are:
- IRS scams
- Medicare and social security scams
- “Can you hear me” scams
- Debt collection scams
- Jamaican lottery scams
- Grandparent scams
- Tech support scams
- Medical alert scams
- Charity scams
- Utility bill scams