Identity theft and fraud

Is it really a local number?

Posted:  Friday, March 9, 2018 - 7:30am

Have you ever answered your phone only to find that the local number displayed is not really the number that is calling you?

This practice, known as “spoofing,” has been around for more than a decade and it’s often used by scammers to make their calls seem legitimate. Illegal telemarketers, debt collectors, robocallers and pranksters also use spoofed phone numbers to encourage the victim to answer their calls.

Spoofed caller ID’s are used to impersonate police departments, courts, utility companies and medical insurance providers. In some instances, the callers claim to be from the organizations displayed in the spoofed identifier and threaten the victim with dire consequences if money isn’t sent immediately.

“Neighbor spoofing” is a fairly recent version of the practice. It uses a spoofed phone number that indicates the call is coming from the same town. It’s particularly successful in areas like ours where the first three numbers after the area code show the town where the call originated. Using this type of spoofed number, scammers can easily trick victims into answering the phone, thinking that a local friend or neighbor is calling.

Spoofing works by using technology to insert a false caller ID at the same point the legitimate caller ID would be inserted (as the phone is ringing).

And it’s amazingly easy to do. A company called “SpoofCard” offers a call application that can be downloaded to cell phones from their website. The app allows users to choose which phone number will be displayed on caller ID. As if that wasn’t enough, it also allows users to record calls, send a spoofed call directly to a voicemail account, disguise the caller’s voice and send spoofed texts, too.

According to the company’s website, its users trust SpoofCard “for the privacy and anonymity it gives.” No mention is made about trust issues for the people who are fooled into believing that the caller is legitimate.

Other spoofing services have users pay in advance for the service and they are given an identifier which they then can use to set up a spoof call whenever they wish.

Despite the ease of creating a spoofed caller ID, using it for illegal means can be costly. The Truth in Caller ID Act states that anyone providing spoofed caller ID information “with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongly obtain anything of value”  can face a penalty of up to $10,000 for each incident.

If you wish to report a spoofing incident, you can call the Federal Communications Commission at 1-888-225-5322 or visit

To be safe, never send money to anyone who demands it over the phone. And don’t give your personal information to a caller, either. Verify the demand by calling the organization at its published or usual number.

Maine Identity Services, LLC provides data breach and identity theft assistance to individuals, organizations and law enforcement personnel through its books, seminars and police materials. For more information about the company and its products, visit