Caller ID Spoofing: How Scammers Use Local and Trusted Numbers to Trick You

Katie Sep 23

We've discussed the eight phone scams to protect yourself from, however, we didn’t get into one major element of many of those scams: caller ID spoofing. Caller ID spoofing allows robo callers and scammers to seem as if they are calling you from a local number, a trusted business, or a government office. Many people fall victim to the IRS scam because the number that shows up on their caller ID is that of the local police station or the IRS itself. It’s been happening across the country from California to New York and everywhere in between and it’s not just the IRS scam, but countless other types of phone scams.

Scammers use spoofed numbers

A Little History on Caller ID Spoofing

Caller ID spoofing has been around for decades and was commonly used by businesses that had many internal phone numbers to display as one well known and advertised number on outgoing calls. Starting about a decade ago, in the early 2000’s, came the rise of free to cheap caller ID spoofing software. It was initially designed to allow people to protect their identity in vulnerable situations or play pranks on friends, but it soon took on criminal behavior.

It was speculated that Paris Hilton used caller ID spoofing to hack into the phone and voicemail  of Lindsay Lohan back in the mid-aughts and from there on spoofing has largely been used for malicious purposes. Nowadays, we are used to hearing about caller ID spoofing not in relation to celebrity scandal, but in relation to robo dialers calling at all hours from local phone numbers in the hopes that someone will pick up.

How Does Caller ID Spoofing Work?

One of the most common ways to spoof caller ID is by using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service and a Private Branch Exchange (PBX) communications system software, like AsteriskVoIP in simple terms is a phone service over the internet and it takes the analog phone signal and converts it to a digital signal allowing it to be sent over the internet. It has become very popular in recent years due to it’s low cost compared to traditional telephone service.

PBX is a private system of telephone lines used within a company, and PBX software allows you to configure the internal phone lines of your company and control how outgoing calls appear along with a slew of other features. With a few tweaks to the software’s files you can alter what the outgoing number appears as, causing the Caller ID Name (CNAM) to display the incorrect information.

There are also a number of other companies that provide simplified spoofing services, one of the most well known being SpoofCard. For a low cost you can change the number that your call recipient sees and also change the sound of your voice from male to female.

Is Anything Being Done to Stop Caller ID Spoofing?

Caller ID spoofing isn’t illegal unless it’s done with intent to defraud or cause damage. In 2009 the U.S. passed the Truth in Caller ID Act, which has made it illegal for any person or company to use misleading caller ID infomation for the purposes of fraud, harm, or to obtain anything of value. Each violation carries a penalty of up to $10,000.

However, you may be asking yourself why if there is a law in place and heavy penalties, do you keep getting annoying calls from spoofed numbers? One of the reasons why is because caller ID spoofing is very difficult to trace. 

How to Protect Yourself From Caller ID Spoofing

The best method to avoid potential scammers and harassing callers is to let calls from unknown numbers go to voicemail and then use a reverse phone lookup app or site , such as CallerSmart, to look up the number.

We’ve come across several caller ID spoofers in our crowd sourced phone book. Many times scammers will use the number of a business or an individual, which can be a nightmare when angry callers who are being harassed by your phone number start to call back and complain. Our user’s comments allow you to find out if a phone number that’s calling you is related to a scam and if your business or personal line has been hijacked.

Here are just two out of many examples of caller ID spoofing that we’ve found:

(315) 217-0122: Received a call from (something unintelligible) Cash Advance Company offering me a business loan with no collateral... Obviously a scam or has a super high interest rate. Asked them to remove me from their call list and blocked them.

(646) 769-9056: They call and call and NEVER leave a message!

If you do answer a call from a number that you might suspect is a scam and may be using spoofed caller ID, be sure to do the following:

  1. If a machine starts speaking once you answer, don’t press a number to be placed on a Do Not Call List. Pushing a button will send a signal back that you are an actual person and the amount of nuisance phone calls you receive will only increase. These people are criminals and they don’t care about the Do Not Call List.
  2. If an actual person starts speaking to you do not give them any personal information. Tell them that you’re unable to take the call at the moment and ask for their name, company or organization they are calling from, and a number you can call them back at. Caller ID can’t be trusted.
  3. After ending the conversation, do a reverse phone number lookup or check with the company that they said they were calling from to verify the information. Remember if the caller said that they were with the IRS it is a scam, they will not contact you by phone nor demand payment over the phone ever.

If you feel that you were contacted by a scammer using caller ID spoofing you should report it to the FCC, you can file a complaint online or contact them by phone at 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322). Also be sure to block the number, which can be done in just a few simple steps on your iPhone.

If you believe that your number has been used in caller ID spoofing it is best to file a complaint with the FCC and contact your phone service provider. Unfortunately, the only solutions are to change your number or wait it out until the scammer stops using your number.

You can also report any suspicious behavior on your number or on other numbers in CallerSmart's iPhone app for unknown number look ups. If you don't have an iPhone, you can find callers by phone number and leave your feedback on our website.