Since its inception, caller ID has been great for helping us dodge scammers and robocalls. Unfortunately, scammers are clever, and they’ve found ways to transmit false information about their phone numbers to hide their identities.
Faking a phone number this way is called “spoofing” in the telecom industry. In cases where the purpose is to scam someone or cause harm, spoofing is illegal.
How scammers use spoofing
For scammers, spoofing is a tool for getting information or bypassing call blockers. Typically, scammers use spoofing to pose as a bank, business, or government agency in order to trick people into giving up personal or financial information.
Usually, scammers accomplish this by mimicking invalid, inactive, or unassigned phone numbers. The process is fairly simple, and utilizes the same technology that allows people to use standard phone numbers over Skype or Google voice.
These phone scams are frequently conducted using robocalls—automated phone calls that deliver pre-recorded messages.
According to the IRS, scammers posing as tax collectors snagged about $26.5 million from people using spoofed phone numbers.
Although it’s uncommon, some telemarketers also use spoofing to call people who’ve blocked their real phone number to avoid more calls. This is also illegal. For telemarketing, businesses are required to use the phone number associated with the company and that can be called to request that they stop calling.
Calls that you think are from spoofed phone numbers can be reported to the FCC.
What isn’t spoofing
There are legitimate reasons for hiding a phone number, which is perfectly legal. Spoofing is allowed in certain situations such as law enforcement working on cases, domestic abuse victims and doctors who need to discuss private medical matters.
Additionally, number blocking isn't considered spoofing. Number blocking is different than spoofing because calls from blocked numbers simply don’t send any caller information with the call. If you make or receive a call from a blocked number, it will show up as, “unknown number” or “unknown” on caller ID.
Federal regulations require that all phone companies provide free number blocking service for all calls between states. (Calls within a state are regulated under that state’s law.)
Fortunately, recent regulation has been passed that allows telephone carriers to block all calls from invalid numbers, inactive, or unassigned phone numbers. If carriers choose to enact that policy, most number spoofing used by scammers should be stopped.
Telnyx delivers voice, messaging, and more for applications and next-generation communications companies. Telnyx provides advanced CNAM querying through direct database lookup for improved fraud detection and call context. Contact our customer success team to learn more.
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