We have recently been made aware of “spoofing” reports in and around our communities. Spoofing occurs when a caller disguises their identity. Recent examples include calls coming up through the caller ID seemingly from local Fire departments and Police departments.  These calls have increased in part because of the Hurricane Harvey tragedy. These criminals use caller ID spoofing and robocall technology to target residents of areas hit by the storm with scam calls about flood insurance or as we’ve recently seen them trying to solicit local donations. Before giving out any personal information or agreeing to any payment, you should independently verify that the call is legitimate.

If you know anyone around the Hurricane Harvey/Irma area, they should contact their insurance agent or insurance company directly and policyholders with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP Direct) can call 1-800-638-6620. To report suspected donation fraud, call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline toll free at 1-866-720-5721. You can also file a complaint with the FCC about illegally spoofed robocalls.
 

What is spoofing and how does it work?

 

"Spoofing" occurs when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity. Spoofing is often used as part of an attempt to trick someone into giving away valuable personal information so it can be used in fraudulent activity or sold illegally. U.S. law and FCC rules prohibit most types of spoofing.


Caller ID lets consumers avoid unwanted phone calls by displaying caller names and phone numbers, but the caller ID feature is sometimes manipulated by spoofers who masquerade as representatives of banks, creditors, insurance companies, or even the government.
 
 

What you can do if you think you're being spoofed?

You may not be able to tell right away if an incoming call is spoofed. Be careful about responding to any request for personal identifying information.
  • Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother's maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious. 

  • If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency seeking personal information, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book or on the company's or government agency's website to verify the authenticity of the request.

  • Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately.

  • If you have a voice mail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it.  Some voicemail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number.  A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voice mail if you do not set a password.

Is spoofing illegal?

Under the Truth in Caller ID Act, FCC rules prohibit any person or entity from transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongly obtain anything of value.  If no harm is intended or caused, spoofing is not illegal.  Anyone who is illegally spoofing can face penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation.  In some cases, spoofing can be permitted by courts for people who have legitimate reasons to hide their information, such as law enforcement agencies working on cases, victims of domestic abuse or doctors who wish to discuss private medical matters.
 

What are the FCC rules regarding caller ID for telemarketers?

FCC rules specifically require that a telemarketer:
  • Transmit or display its telephone number or the telephone number on whose behalf the call is being made, and, if possible, its name or the name of the company for which it is selling products or services.

  • Display a telephone number you can call during regular business hours to ask to no longer be called. This rule applies even to companies that already have an established business relationship with you.

How do I report suspected spoofing?

If you receive a call and you suspect caller ID information has been falsified, or you think the rules for protecting the privacy of your telephone number have been violated, you can file a complaint with the FCC.

As always, be careful not to give out personal information to callers, unless you know it is safe to do so. If you aren’t sure, best practice is don’t do it!
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