Caller I.D. Spoofing: Don't Believe the Number Showing on Your Phone

Man checking phone for caller I.D. spoofingIt's your mother on the phone -- or so your caller I.D. says -- but that's not necessarily so. You may be amazed at how easily a caller can arrange to have virtually any number other than his own show up on your phone's caller I.D.

A bill just passed in Washington establishes strong penalties for anyone using caller I.D. "spoofing" to scam another person out of money or otherwise cause them harm. It does not, however, stop companies from offering the service.The industry makes a valid claim, that some people have a legitimate need to disguise their phone number, such as law enforcement, politicians, physicians and battered wives. It's not so clear, however, why dialing *67, which blocks caller I.D., doesn't serve the purpose in most cases.

Pranksters and stalkers have made use of cloaking services, one reason that the new law is being put into effect. Paris Hilton made headlines when she tried to use one to hack into Lindsay Lohan's email. A San Francisco man used caller I.D. spoofing to make hundreds of phone calls to women he was stalking.

Certainly there are criminal uses for the technology. Any scammer who wants to convince the person on the other end of the line that he's legitimate could have the phone number of a respected business show on the caller I.D. Once hooked, the victim could be told they have won a prize (contingent on paying some sort of fee). A scammer could even play the role of a grandson in desperate need of cash, or a bank official in need of personal information.

How hard is it to spoof a caller I.D.? Try it for yourself at one of the sites, Spoofcard.com. I used its free trial to call my wife, arranging that her mother's phone number appear on the caller I.D. It worked perfectly, and took less than a minute.

Spoofcard offers this service to anyone for around 12 cents to 18 cents a minute. It also offers other features, such as voice disguising. And it's not the only company in this market; Telespoof and Itellas, for example, also offer the technology. There is even a smart phone app, Spoofapp.

How can you fight back? First, don't automatically believe what you read on your caller I.D. When in doubt, tell the caller you will call them back, at the number on the caller I.D., and confirm that number independently. Don't send anyone money or reveal any confidential information until you are absolutely convinced of the caller's authenticity.

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