In the telecommunications industry, caller ID is a service that enables call recipients to identify the person calling them. Caller ID spoofing refers to a technique that allows the person making a phone call to deliberately falsify the caller ID information displayed on the recipient’s phone.
In the United States, caller ID spoofing is done for various reasons. However, it is illegal to use caller ID spoofing to intentionally harm, defraud, or obtain sensitive information and money from a person. These activities are criminalized in the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, and the Attorney General’s Office is tasked with ensuring compliance with this act in the state of Washington.
The continued increase in the use of Primary Rate Interface (PRI) and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to configure phone numbers has unfortunately led to a rise in fraudulent activities, including caller ID spoofing. Some fraudulent and criminal activities that incorporate the use of caller ID spoofing are:
- Activities involving the bullying, harassment, and intimidation of people, where con artists and criminals disguise their identities through caller ID spoofing when contacting potential victims. These criminals usually make the calls look like they are from law enforcement agencies to strike fear in the mind of the targets;
- Activities involving phone pranks, where a prank caller uses caller ID spoofing to trick the call receiver into believing that the call is coming from a legitimate organization or government agency. In some cases, these prank calls are not done with malicious intent;
- Activities involving criminal impersonation, where a con artist or criminal intentionally falsifies their caller ID to look like the number of a government body, financial institution, or well-known business, to defraud the call receiver;
- Activities involving illegal telemarketing, where con artists disguise their phone numbers before contacting potential targets to deceive them into picking up the calls. Most illegal telemarketers do this through a neighbor spoofing technique, which involves spoofing a number so that it looks like it is coming from the same area code that the call recipient is in
Why Is Phone Spoofing Illegal?
Generally, caller ID spoofing is not considered illegal in the United States. Caller ID spoofing has some legitimate uses and is used by both individuals and businesses. However, this technology's features and the ease with which it can be done also allow con artists to take advantage of unsuspecting individuals. In light of this, the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 was enacted to discourage caller ID spoofing for criminal purposes. Under this act, using caller ID spoofing to obtain personal information and valuables, defraud, or harm a person is illegal and punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 for each violation. It should be noted that this act makes an exemption for law enforcement activities that require the use of caller ID spoofing.
How Do You Know If Your Number Is Being Spoofed?
Dealing with the outcome of having your phone number spoofed can be a very irritating and exhausting experience. Unfortunately, there is no quick way to know that your phone number has been spoofed. However, suppose you suddenly start receiving many calls and messages from people asking you to stop bothering them or calls making inquiries about matters or products you know nothing about. In that case, there is a high probability that your phone number has been spoofed.
If this happens to you, it is advised that you take the following steps:
- Record a voicemail message on your phone informing all callers to no longer engage with your number if it contacts them again, specifying that you are a victim of a phone number spoofing;
- Block all calls and messages from unknown numbers. Some phones come built-in with this feature, or you can download an app to do this;
- Protect yourself against any future liability by filing a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. This serves as official proof that your phone number was spoofed if the spoofed number is implicated in a criminal activity.
How Can You Protect Yourself from Illegal Spoofed Calls?
Protect yourself from con artists and scammers that use the caller ID spoofing technology by doing the following:
- Register your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry;
- Always remember that caller ID can be spoofed. Therefore, do not always trust the information that your caller ID displays;
- Limit the number of people and businesses you give out your phone number to;
- Be careful when answering calls from unknown numbers;
- Be careful when answering calls from numbers that are similar to yours;
- Verify the authenticity of callers that claim to be government agents or staff of financial institutions. One way of doing this is by performing a reverse phone number lookup on the caller's number. If your search produces no results, then the call was probably made from a spoofed number;
- Never give out sensitive information like bank passwords over the phone, unless the caller is someone you know and trust;
- Hang up immediately if a caller tries to pressure you into giving out sensitive information;
- Block all calls and messages from phone numbers that you suspect have been spoofed.
Does Washington Have Anti-Spoofing Laws?
Section 9A.90.070 of the Washington Cybercrime Act took effect on the 9th of June, 2016. Based on this Act, it is a gross misdemeanor to intentionally transmit, display, or receive the identifying information of another person or organization to gain unauthorized access to a data network, data system, or electronic data, and commit a crime. People found guilty of this crime can be punished by a jail term of up to 364 days in county jail, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
The Washington State Attorney General's Office is also responsible for enforcing the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009. This is a federal anti-spoofing law, and offenders found guilty of violating it can be punished with fines of up to $10,000 for each offense. It is important to note that this law has a statute of limitation of two years.
What Are Common Phone Scams Involving Caller ID Spoofing in Washington?
Caller ID spoofing is a legitimate tool that some institutions and organizations utilize to conduct their businesses. However, caller ID spoofing is also used by fraudulent individuals to perform different phone scams. Some caller ID spoofing related scams reported in Washington are:
- Relative in need/Grandparent scams;
- Identity theft scams;
- Advanced fee fraud scams;
- Foreign lottery scams
Washingtonians that have been affected by scams are advised to file a complaint with the state's Attorney General's Office.