Phone scammers are becoming more sophisticated. In 2021, it was estimated that 1 in 3 Americans was the victim of a phone scam, with $ 29.8 billion lost to fraudsters. This number is only rising. In fact, the amount of cash lost to phone scammers in 2021 was almost double that of 2018.
Part of why more and more people are becoming victims of phone scamming is the prevalence of caller ID spoofing. Scammers are spoofing their numbers to make it seem like they are calling from a legit business. No wonder so many people are falling victim to this deceptive practice.
On this page, we want to teach you about caller ID spoofing. We want to let you know how it works and, more importantly, what you can do to avoid it. While it is unlikely that we alone can combat caller ID spoofing, even if we just help one person, we’ve done our job.
The Art of Deception: Understanding Caller ID Spoofing
Caller ID spoofing is a technique to mask the real number that’s calling. There are four different ways that this can happen.
The most common is ‘impersonating’. This is where the caller ID is exactly the same as a legitimate business, normally one that the recipient is likely to have done business with. This is one of the easiest phone scams to fall for because it is almost impossible to know that you’re being called from a spoofed number.
Some spoofers will also engage in neighbor spoofing. This makes the call appear as if it is coming from a local area code, even if the scammer is on the other side of the world!
You also have:
- Fake numbers: the number is just a random collection of digits that you can’t call back or identify.
- Mirroring: the number displayed on the caller ID is the same as the person that is receiving the call.
These two techniques are used far less frequently, mostly because they make it far, far harder to scam somebody.
It is worth noting (and you’ll see why in a little while). Not all number spoofing is illegal. There are legit reasons why a person may be spoofing their number. Number spoofing only becomes illegal when it is done for fraudulent purposes.
How Scammers Spoof Their Numbers
One of the reasons why we have seen a rise in the number of caller ID spoofing is down to improved tech. In the past, if you wanted to spoof your number you would have to jump through hoops and spend a vast amount of cash. Nowadays, you just need to download an app onto your phone.
Most phone scammers use something known as VoIP. This allows calls to be made over the Internet. While most VoIP providers will assign you a number to use (to combat spoofing), some services will allow the person to choose the number and name they want to appear on the caller ID. It costs just a few dollars to get one of these accounts.
The Implications of Deceptive Caller ID
The main implication of a deceptive caller ID is impersonation. Many scammers will pose as a business, a perfectly legit one. They’ll normally ask for money or information (sometimes a password). Since the victim doesn’t have an easy way of knowing they are being scammed, they believe that they are being called by a real business, and, a lot of the time, they’re happy to hand over their information. It’s no wonder phone scams are on the rise!
Other times, the caller may be on the hunt for credit card information, or information about the person so that they can easily steal their identity. For example, it isn’t uncommon for scammers to ask for passwords, last names, etc. In rare cases, they may even ask for your social security number for identification purposes.
Once again, this is a massive risk for anybody that picks up a phone. After all, caller ID spoofing has been made to be as hard to detect as possible.
Uncovering the Tactics: How Scammers Exploit Caller ID
Let’s give you an overview of some of the tactics that scammers use to exploit caller ID. This is not a complete guide to everything scammers do. Phone scammers are constantly refining their techniques. But, it should give you an idea of some of the techniques that you should be aware of.
Impersonation is a big one. Many caller IDs will spoof numbers related to big, reputable businesses, especially banks, insurance companies, etc. They are aiming for businesses that many people will likely be familiar with and, in some cases, even already be in contact with.
Impersonation has many goals. It could be:
- Getting somebody to make a payment.
- Phishing i.e. obtaining personal information from the recipient, which can then be used for nefarious purposes.
Many of these spoofers are well-versed in ‘talking’ to people. Whenever they call, there’ll often be a sense of urgency so not many people feel like they have the time to go out there and do some proper research e.g. you may hear something like “Please give me your password, or we’ll lock your bank account”, etc. Scary stuff, which catches a surprising number of people out.
Neighbor spoofing is meant to appear as if the phone call is coming from a local telephone number. This gives the number a touch of trustworthiness. Much of the techniques that scammers use with neighbor spoofing will overlap with the impersonation techniques.
Robocalls are the biggest issue. While most people know to avoid robocalls, they are made with such frequency that scammers can pull in a lot of victims.
Robocalls, as you may know, are automated messages. A lot of the time, robocalls are fantastically useful e.g. providing appointment reminders. However, they can be used for ‘bad’ things too. For example, scammers may send out robocalls giving a ‘warning’ to send cash, or to contact a certain number.
Many robocalls appear as if they are coming from a legit business. Trust us. If somebody is asking for cash or telling you to go to a strange website on a robocall, it is likely a scam.
Defending Against Caller ID Spoofing: Empowering Users
Knowing that caller ID spoofing exists already helps you out a lot. Many people, very smart people, fall victim to caller ID spoofing because they are not aware that it is a thing. Once you know that a number could be spoofed, it becomes a lot easier to avoid.
Whenever a number calls you and asks for personal information, be aware that you could be scammed.
Let’s share a few techniques with you. Techniques that will make it easier to defend against caller ID spoofing.
Verify Incoming Calls
Always strive to verify the legitimacy of a number. If somebody calls you claiming to be from a certain business, then ask them if you can give them a callback. If they say you can’t call them back and the issue needs to be dealt with now, then chances are that it is a scam. After all, if they are spoofing their number, you can’t call the scammer back. You’d be calling the actual business back.
If you have never dealt with that business before, and they are asking you for a lot of personal information, hang up. You’re probably being scammed.
Feel free to ask the person on the phone what number they’re calling from too. Legit callers will be more likely to tell you that they are using a spoofed caller ID. Most will be happy to give you their real number too, which you can then go ahead and Google.
If you’re being called by somebody using neighbor number spoofing, then a quick Google search should let you know whether you’re being scammed. Most people post online when they have received a phone call from a scammer.
As we’ll discussion the next section, there are certain methods that you can use to avoid spoofed numbers.
If somebody has called you asking for:
- Your credit card number
- Social security number
- Bank account details
And you were not expecting the call, don’t speak to that number. Trust us, any company that you associate with will likely have this information already. They don’t need you to give it to them again. They certainly wouldn’t be calling you out of the blue to ask for it.
Leveraging Technology: Anti-Spoofing Measures
With the rise in caller ID spoofing, there are some anti-spoofing measures that have been developed. These are not 100% infallible methods, but they should cut out most potential scammers.
Verified Caller ID
Many phone networks have introduced something known as ‘Verified Caller ID’. It may be wise to check whether this is a service your network offers.
Verified Caller ID will tell you when the number calling you and the spoofed number don’t match. So, you’ll need to pay extra special attention during that phone call.
Do bear in mind that there are some businesses that will spoof their number for legitimate purposes e.g. banks (to hide the caller extension or branch), so you may get some warnings about things that aren’t really an issue. But, at least you’ll be more aware of keeping your personal details to yourself on that call!
Call Blocking and Filtering Apps
There are some call-blocking apps out there that should provide you with a warning for known scammers and caller ID spoofers. Although, once again, this is not an infallible method. These systems work on a database of potential scam numbers, so you can get false warnings. Still, it is better to be safe than sorry.
The best apps we’ve seen for call blocking and filtering are:
- Hiya: Spam Blocker & Caller ID
- Number Tracker Pro
Both of these apps have extensive databases, and can automatically block calls from known scammers and robocallers.
Regulatory Efforts: The Fight Against Caller ID Spoofing
While governments around the world have attempted to introduce legislation to combat caller ID spoofing, there is only so much that they can do.
The US did come close to making caller ID spoofing illegal with early iterations of the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009. However, it was decided that the legislation should instead prohibit people from making phone calls using spoofed numbers with the intent to commit fraud or deceive.
Plenty of people have been fined in the US for caller ID spoofing (sometimes to the tune of millions).
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that caller ID spoofing will ever be completely banned due to the need for some businesses and people to spoof their numbers.
We can see legislation getting tightened up, though. It may start to target caller ID spoofing from foreign entities, or maybe VoIP.
The Future of Caller ID Security
Unfortunately, caller ID spoofing is only going to get worse.
As the problem becomes more prevalent, it is likely that people will become much more educated about caller ID spoofing and how to avoid it. Hopefully, this article has helped you out there.
We’ll also likely see more phone networks introduce methods to help people to determine whether the call that they’re receiving is legit. (Verified Caller ID), and more apps on the marketplace.
We can’t really see stricter legislation put in place, but if the problem keeps getting worse then there is a chance that we may see governments around the world imposing harsher fines to deter people from spoofing their numbers.
Caller ID spoofing is a very real problem, and even those that thought they could avoid phone scams have been falling victim to it. Billions of dollars are fraudulently removed from the pockets of Americans each year due to this practice. It is very tough to avoid too. It is hard to detect caller ID spoofing. So, if you receive a phone call, always be aware of who is on the other end of the phone, especially if they start to ask for a lot of personal information.