How Scammers Use Familiar Phone Numbers to Steal Your Information

Scam phone calls aren’t a new thing, but today’s scammers are now bolder and more sophisticated. In 2010, more than 84,000 people reported phone-related scams to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Phone Scammers

Scammers can spoof phone numbers from your local area code or a number that you recognize. When they call, you might think it’s your mother or brother—You wouldn’t know the difference until you picked up the phone.

Scammers will even call pretending to be your child, your spouse, or another family member – speaking quickly as if they’re in a hurry and need your information right away. If a scammer called your mother and spoofed your number, would she know it wasn’t you if the caller was speaking fast and in a panic?

Caller ID Spoofing is the process of changing the caller ID to any number when you want to hide the real number. To transmit the caller ID, the spoofer needs three pieces of information: the number you’re calling from, the number you’re calling to, and whatever number you want the display to save. When a customer receives a call, the caller ID gets transmitted between the first and second number.

(You can view an NBC report about spoofing here.)

According to Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC, they are empowering phone companies to block robocalls that appear to be spoofed with no real legitimate purpose. They’re taking aggressive action against these callers, and are working to find better technological solutions to guard against fake calls.

Apps such as Mr. Number and TrueCaller can help you determine the difference between spoofed and non-spoofed calls:

TrueCaller works as a caller-ID app, albeit a beefed-up, superpowered one. It tells you who the caller is, where they are from, and who they might be. It prevents calls from telemarketers and spam callers. It pulls the numbers and contact info from its users so all the numbers stored in your contacts will end up in the TrueCaller database. Currently, this database is home to two and a half billion contacts.

With Mr. Number, you can narrow down your desired specifications in the settings menu. You can block specific numbers, entire area codes, numbers not in your contacts, calls you suspect are spam, and intercept calls from private/unknown numbers and review them later in your recent call list.

Here are some tips for dealing with scam or spoofed phone calls:

  1. Don’t Give Them Anything. These scammers are hunting for information. The best thing you can do is to tell them nothing. Simply hang up. Any bit of information that you provide could be used to separate you from your money or identity.
  2. Don’t Call Me. If an organization, charity, or group calls you uninvited, they probably aren’t who they say they are. Even if your caller ID looks legit, it might not be. Caller ID spoofing is becoming more common. Rely instead on your instincts. If it feels wrong, it probably is.
  3. I’ll Call You. If the caller insists that they speak with you right away, tell them that you’ll call them back directly. At this point, some scammers will offer you a phone number as a way to verify they are who they say they are. Don’t call this number. You’re better off looking up the number yourself. Or, if it’s a company you’ve done business with before, like a utility company, call the number that’s listed on your monthly bill.
  4. Keep Alert. Even if you’re the one initiating the call, you could still be at risk. When calling a company that you don’t know, before talking with them, do some homework. Look them up with the Better Business Bureau, check their website, and research them online. You can even ask them to mail you some information. If they’re legit, they’ll know where to send it.
  5. Don’t Be Rushed. The scammer might try to hurry you into making a decision. This is often employed by scammers who are spoofing a number that you know. Don’t let them rush you into giving up vital information. This is how they get you to slip up and give them what they want.
  6. Be Part of the Solution. If you’ve received a call that you suspect is a scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357). If you don’t report it, someone else may fall victim to the scammer.

Spoofing a phone number without permission is illegal. In Canada, the CRTC suggests that victims file a complaint if they’re sure the caller ID was spoofed by a telemarketer or conman.