Call Spoofing: Why You Should Never Trust Caller ID

Watch out for this new Social Security call spoofing scam: Internet Scambusters #833

Call spoofing — a trick scammers use to hide their phone identity and pretend to be someone else — now accounts for around half of all incoming calls, according to some observers.

By fooling victims into believing the call is from someone they know or a legitimate organization like a bank or government office, the crooks are out to try to steal confidential information.

In the latest call spoofing case, scammers pretend to be from the U.S. Social Security Administration — but you won’t lose money if you follow two simple steps, as we report in this week’s issue.

Let’s get started…


Call Spoofing: Why You Should Never Trust Caller ID


A new Social Security call spoofing scam provides all the evidence needed for why you should never trust caller ID.

Spoofing is a computer tactic used by scammers to trick your caller ID service. Instead of revealing who’s on the line, a spoofed call appears to come from someone else — in fact, whoever the scammer wants it to be.

According to Hiya, a company that specializes in blocking spam phone calls, more than half of all calls received by its customers in the first half of this year were spoofed — both on landlines and cell phones.

In the latest incident, the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) says crooks are spoofing its main customer service line — 800-772-1213.

Mostly, however, that number is used by folks dialing into the SSA, not for outgoing calls from the organization. So if it shows up on your caller ID, there a pretty good chance it’s a fake call.

In this case, as so often, the scammers are after personal information including your Social Security number (SSN), which they can use for identity theft. They may even try threatening to cut off your benefits if you don’t give them the info.

But, when you think of it, how could someone cut off your benefit when they supposedly don’t know your SSN? It’s a dead giveaway for a scam.

In other cases, they may claim to be offering an increase in benefits in return for your cooperation.

SSA Acting Inspector General Gale Stone says the Administration doesn’t ask for SSNs if it has to phone people for customer service purposes. Nor, of course, do they make threats to withdraw benefit.

If you get one of these calls, the best solution is not to answer it at all. But if you do and the caller asks for your SSN, it’s definitely not the Social Security people — so just hang up.

If you’re worried, you can always call that same number given above and connect to the genuine department to check.

You can also visit www.medicare.gov/fraud to learn more about keeping your number and your card out of the hands of crooks.

Another favorite call spoofing trick that scammers are increasingly using is to mimic local area phone code calls, which they know people are more likely to answer, especially if the number is similar to the victim’s own number.

Jonathan Nelson, director of Reputation Data at Hiya was recently quoted by the Consumer Affairs website as saying: “Scammers are never idle with their tactics and, with the neighbor scam, they are experimenting with all the ways to spoof their number to get consumers to pick up the phone.”

Once again, the best tactic is to ignore calls that come from numbers you don’t recognize. And if you do recognize it but it turns out to be a spoofed call, hang up.

A couple of things you shouldn’t do: Don’t get involved in a conversation if the caller is a real person. Just hang up.

And, if it’s a recorded call (robocall) that invites you to key in a certain number to eliminate future calls, don’t do that either. The scammers just use that as an indicator that you’re really there on the end of the line and that, potentially, you’re gullible.

Unfortunately, there’s no sign of an improvement in the spoofing crime or in the reduction of robocalls.

Another spam-blocking company, First Orion, recently told a government hearing on call spoofing earlier this year: “The fraudsters are very sophisticated, evolving their practices to avoid being labeled or blocked. As a result, we are in an arms race, not a marathon with a finish line, and will be in it until we make it unprofitable.”

And the Washington Post says that half of all complaints received by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) were about unwanted calls. The FCC estimates Americans received around 2.4 billion unwanted calls every month.

Yes, you can try to limit unwanted calls by signing up for the free Do Not Call registry (1-888-382-1222). But crooks are unlikely to take any notice of this list.

If you’re lucky, your phone service provider also may offer some kind of call filtering service.

Or you can consider using call-blocking services such as those mentioned here (we’re not recommending them as we haven’t tested them).

Remember, the scammers are constantly trying to find ways around call-blocking technology.

Ultimately, your best defense is, first, to be wary and skeptical whenever your phone starts ringing, ignoring or doubting your caller ID.

Second, if you do pick up, refuse absolutely to give confidential information in response to any incoming call. After all, there’s a near 50 percent chance it’s a call spoofing scam.

Alert of the Week

What do you know about your rights and responsibilities when you lose your credit or debit card or your card info gets stolen and, in either case, used for fraudulent purposes?

Contrary to what you might think, the rules are quite simple. And now the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has produced an easy to read guide that’s definitely worth downloading and keeping handy.

That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!