We’ve all been there. The phone rings during dinner, or when you’re putting the kids to bed, and it’s a telemarketer.
I’m dialed in to the National Do Not Call Registry, but about two times a week, a telemarketer rings my home office. I check my caller ID before picking up the phone, but have recently noticed that some telemarketers aren’t who they “appear” to be.
It’s a scam that is known as caller ID spoofing, and happens when a caller disguises their name and phone number to make it look like they’re someone else. Now, the Federal Trade Commission has a warning: some telemarketers are using spoofing to get around the National Do Not Call Registry, fraudulently pitching things like credit cards, mortgage relief, and debt relief. William Maxson is an attorney in the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, and told me spoofing is a “serious and growing problem.”
“Each month when we look at our top number of complaints for Do Not Call violations, spoofed caller ID name and number are always at the top,” said Maxson.
Under the current rules, telemarketers are required to display accurate caller ID information, including the name of the company and the telephone number. When a call is spoofed, digits often show up as “dead,” meaning they aren’t real, or they originate from a different country. Other times, the name of the caller is generic, like “card services” or “customer service.”
“They can also use a name or a number that’s associated with a prominent national company in order to get some legitimacy,” said Maxson.
And that makes it difficult for consumers to screen out unwanted calls. It’s that invasion of privacy that concerns the consumer group Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
“The phone number could be showing up as coming from your grandmother to trick you into picking up the phone. We have heard of those stories,” said Director of Communications Amber Yoo.
How can you stop the spoofing? The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse recommends keeping a log of the calls you receive.
“The date. The time. Was it a male or a female voice? What did they say? We recommend actually taking a photo of what your caller ID is showing you,” said Yoo.
Then, report what you find to the FTC by logging on to FTC.gov, or calling 877-FTC-HELP. The agency is actively investigating complaints, and has already brought nearly a dozen cases against companies engaged in caller ID spoofing. Maxson also recommends reaching out to your state attorney general, or even your phone company.