How to Stop Phone Spoofing

From impersonating police officers in Pennsylvania to employees of the City of San Antonio, scammers have been impersonating officials nationwide in order to scam people. A nurse in New York even lost her life savings to a spoofing scam.  Phone spoofing is a technique used by callers to disguise their true identity and phone number when making calls. By altering the caller ID information displayed on the recipient’s phone, spoofers can make it appear as though the call is coming from a different number, often one that looks more trustworthy or familiar to the recipient. This deceptive practice is commonly employed by telemarketers, scammers, and individuals seeking to engage in fraudulent activities, making it more difficult for recipients to identify and block unwanted or suspicious calls. 

How Does Phone Spoofing Work? 

Most spoofing is done using a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service or IP phone that uses VoIP to transmit calls over the internet. VoIP users can usually choose their preferred number or name to be displayed on the caller ID when they set up their account. Some providers even offer spoofing services that work like a prepaid calling card. Customers pay for a PIN code to use when calling their provider, allowing them to select both the destinations number they want to call, as well as the number they want to appear on the recipient’s caller ID.  

What Are The Dangers of Phone Spoofing? 

Scammers often use spoofing to try to trick people into handing over money, personal information, or both. They may pretend to be calling from a bank, a charity, or even a contest, offering a phony prize. These “vishing” attacks (or “voice phishing”), are quite common, and often target older people who are not as aware of this threat. 

For instance, one common scam appears to come from the IRS. The caller tries to scare the receiver into thinking that they owe money for back taxes, or need to send over sensitive financial information right away. Another common scam is fake tech support, where the caller claims to be from a recognizable company, like Microsoft, claiming there is a problem with your computer and they need remote access to fix it. 

There are also “SMiShing” attacks, or phishing via text message, in which you may receive a message that appears to come from a reputable person or company, encouraging you to click on a link. But once you do, it can download malware onto your device, sign you up for a premium service, or even steal your credentials for your online accounts. 

Why Is Spoofing So Prevalent? 

The convenience of sending digital voice signals over the internet has led to an explosion of spam and robocalls over the past few years.  Between January 2019 and September 2023, Americans lodged 2.04 million complaints about unwanted phone calls where people or robots falsely posed as government representatives, legitimate business entities, or people affiliated with them. 

Since robocalls use a computerized autodialer to deliver pre-recorded messages, marketers and scammers can place many more calls than a live person ever could, often employing tricks such as making the call appear to come from the recipient’s own area code. This increases the chance that the recipient will answer the call, thinking it is from a local friend or business. 

And because many of these calls are from scammers or shady marketing groups, just registering your number on the FTC’s official “National Do Not Call Registry” does little help. That’s because only real companies that follow the law respect the registry. 

What Can I Do To Stop Spoofing Calls? 

To really cut back on these calls, the first thing you should do is check to see if your phone carrier has a service or app that helps identify and filter out spam calls. 

For instance, both AT&T and Verizon have apps that provide spam screening or fraud warnings, although they may cost you extra each month. T-Mobile warns customers if a call is likely a scam when it appears on your phone screen, and you can sign up for a scam-blocking service for free. 

There are also third-party apps such as RoboKiller that you can download to help you screen calls, but you should be aware that you will be sharing private data with them. 

Other Tips For Dealing With Unwanted Calls 

  1. After registering for the Do Not Call Registry and checking out your carrier’s options, be very cautious when it comes to sharing your contact information. If an online form asks for your phone number but does not need it, leave that field blank. Also, avoid listing your personal phone number on your social media profiles.
  2. If you receive a call from an unrecognized number, do not answer it. You can always return the call later to see if it was a real person or company. If it was a scam call, you can choose to block the number in your phone, but that too can be frustrating since scammers change their numbers so often.
  3. You can report unwanted calls to the FTC.
  4. Read the privacy policy on every new service you sign up for to make sure that they will not share or sell your contact information.
  5. Be wary of entering contests and sweepstakes online, since they often share data with other companies.
  6. Stay up-to-date on the latest scams, so you can recognize potential threats.

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