Caller ID spoofing is a telecommunications technique where a caller intentionally falsifies the information displayed on a person’s caller ID when receiving a phone call. Caller ID spoofing is done to mislead the receiver on where the incoming phone call originated. Typically, Caller ID is supposed to correctly identify the originating source of an incoming call by displaying a phone number, name, and other available details.
Caller ID spoofing scams have become easier to pull off through telecommunications services like Primary Rate Interface (PRI) and increase internet telephone technology like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Most Voice over Internet Protocol providers allow users to personally configure the number they want to be displayed when they make calls to others.
Even though caller ID spoofing is generally considered legal in the United States, the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 stipulates that caller ID spoofing with intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain valuable things and information is illegal in the country. The Office of the Ohio Attorney General is responsible for enforcing this act in Ohio, and cash fines punish persons found guilty of violating it. However, an exception for certain law enforcement activities is made in this act.
Caller ID spoofing can be misused to perform several crimes and fraudulent activities. Some of these crimes include:
- Harassment/Intimidation – because caller ID spoofing allows people to disguise their phone numbers, it can be used to harass or intimidate unsuspecting individuals. Here, such individuals will be contacted with spoofed numbers that look like the incoming call is from a friend, a trusted establishment, or even a law enforcement agency. Sometimes these calls are prank calls made without any malicious intent. However, some people also make these spoofed calls to defraud, intimidate, or bully the receiver.
- Impersonation – scammers use caller ID spoofing technology to make calls to potential targets by disguising their phone numbers to look like numbers from an official government agency or a financial institution. This is done to obtain sensitive personal information or extorting money from these targets.
- Fraudulent telemarketing – Some scammers use a method of caller ID spoofing called neighbor spoofing to pose as legitimate telemarketers and attempt to defraud potential targets. Neighbor spoofing is a technique where telemarketers call people with a spoofed number similar to that of the receiver to increase their chances of picking up the call. These scammers then extort money from their targets by offering them prizes, services, or investment opportunities and asking for a small upfront fee.
Why Is Phone Spoofing Illegal?
According to the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, Caller ID spoofing in the United States is considered illegal when it is done with the intent of committing a crime. Individuals found guilty of using caller ID spoofing to defraud, cause harm, or obtain valuable information from a person can be fined up to $10,000 for each violation of the act.
Generally, caller ID spoofing can be done for several legal reasons. For example, medical practitioners can spoof their phone numbers for privacy reasons to display their office number when they contact patients. However, this anonymity is also one of the key reasons scammers chose to spoof their numbers when contacting potential victims.
How Do You Know If Your Number Is Being Spoofed?
The surest way to know that your phone number has been spoofed is if you suddenly start receiving calls and messages from known and unknown numbers that all claim you had previously contacted them. Having your number spoofed can have some implications, ranging from the inconvenience and frustration of responding to unwanted calls and messages to accusations of collaborating with scammers. To avoid being incriminated in any criminal activities that may have been committed with your spoofed number, it is advisable to contact the Federal Communications Commission via phone number 1-888-225-5322. You can also file a report online.
How Can You Protect Yourself From Illegal Spoofed Calls?
It is not always possible to determine whether an incoming phone call is from a spoofed number. However, some steps can be taken to avoid falling victim to a caller ID spoofing scam. These steps are:
- Be wary when you receive calls from an unknown number;
- Do not give out personal or sensitive information like passwords and Social Security Numbers if you suspect the caller. Hang up immediately if the caller insists that you provide this information;
- Verify the authenticity of the caller. Most companies, establishments, and government agencies have their phone numbers displayed on their websites. Call these numbers and confirm that they contacted you before making any payment;
- Use software and apps that block unwanted phone calls;
- Register on the National Do Not Call Registry
Does Ohio Have Anti-Spoofing Laws?
The state of Ohio does not currently have any statewide anti-spoofing laws. However, Ohio House Bill No. 597, which the state's attorney general proposed, seeks to classify converting or stealing phone numbers and deliberately providing misleading caller ID information as felony offenses in the state.
The attorney general of the state is also responsible for enforcing the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 in Ohio. This act is a federal anti-spoofing law that criminalizes the intentional spoofing of caller ID information for the purpose of causing harm, defrauding a person, or obtaining valuable information and objects from a person. Individuals found guilty of violating this act can be charged with a fine of between $10,000 - $1,000,000 per violation. However, once an offender is not charged within two years of violating the act, the person can no longer be charged for that specific violation.
What Are Common Phone Scams Involving Caller ID Spoofing in Ohio?
Even though caller ID spoofing is not wholly illegal, its features provide scammers with an increased likelihood of defrauding their potential targets. Because of the relative ease with which caller ID spoofing allows people to disguise their phone numbers, scammers utilize this technique when carrying out several phone scams. Some common caller ID spoofing scams in the state of Ohio are:
- Government agency impersonation scams;
- Law enforcement impersonation scams;
- Financial institution impersonation scams;
- Grandparent scams;
- Job opportunity scams;
- Romance scams
Individuals who suspect they may have been contacted by scammers or have been scammed are advised to contact the Ohio Attorney General’s office via (800) 282-0515. Reports on scams or suspected scams can also be made online.