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Blog Posts by Joel Gurin and Sharon Gillett

Caller ID Spoofing: Who's really on the line?

by Joel Gurin and Sharon Gillett, Chief, Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau and Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
June 23, 2011

Caller ID is a boon to anyone who wants to avoid telemarketers, hostile ex-es, or other examples of what the group No Doubt called "telephonic invasion." ("It's all your fault/I screen my phone calls," they sang in the 1995 hit Spiderwebs.) It's also a helpful tool for busy people who simply want to know if a call is urgent or can be returned later. But scammers have discovered that this useful feature can be used deceptively, in ways that can cost you if you're not careful.

Consider this scenario, which happened to a reader of the Savannah (Georgia) Morning News. You get a call from your gas company, saying that your gas will be shut off unless you immediately make up for a past due bill by credit card. You're very cautious about giving out your credit card number, and it sounds like a scam to you. Except that - the caller ID on your phone tells you that this is, in fact, a call from your gas company. Or is it?  The consumer who got this call was a victim of caller ID spoofing: A con where the scammer made someone else's caller ID appear on the consumers' caller ID service.

There are sometimes good reasons for a caller to hide behind this kind of electronic mask. For example, domestic violence shelters may need to use an ID number in order for their calls to be received, yet may have good reasons not to reveal their true phone number. Far too often, though, fake caller IDs are used by bad actors to get money from consumers, steal consumers' identities, or stalk or harass.  Many consumers have complained to the FCC about callers seeking consumers' financial or other confidential information by purporting to be the consumers' credit card companies, while there are other reports of con artists masquerading as government officials or banks to get identity or financial information from consumers.

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