Witt: Getting ahead of phone spoofers

Published 8:48 am Tuesday, December 19, 2017

There’s a new tool available to telemarketers, one which has probably been noticed by nearly everyone in Clark County.

It’s called spoofing and the most apparent manifestation of it is when someone receives a phone call which displays a caller ID number which turns out to be fallacious.

Undoubtedly many people utilize caller ID to screen telemarketer calls which originate in some area code which is completely unfamiliar to the person being called.

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Most people know almost instantly when a number is bogus, not recognizing the area code which is being displayed.

But now telemarketers have found a way around this. They are able to transmit display information which suggests that the call is coming from a familiar area code. For instance, many people here have probably received a call showing 859-744-etc. thinking that it is someone local, only to discover on answering that it is simply another telemarketer calling from…who knows where.

Spoofing of this sort is illegal. According to the Truth in Caller ID Act, FCC rules prohibit any person or entity from transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongly obtain something of value.

Additionally, federal rules require telemarketers to transmit or display their true phone number and to display a phone number which can be called during regular business hours.

It would seem the mere act of transmitting an erroneous phone number is a violation of the law, because the number being displayed is not a true number and calling the displayed number will not connect with the person or entity originating the call.

Further, displaying a fraudulent phone number is an obvious act to defraud.

Complaints about spoofing can be filed with the FCC, most easily online, and such complaints should be made as often as necessary. Unfortunately, it may be impossible to trace where the call is coming from.

Another option might be to take the call, participate in a conversation with the caller (assuming it is a human and not a robot) in order to find out information about them so as to make an effective complaint.

Many phones, either landline or mobile, now come with caller blocking features, a good measure to dispense with telemarketer calls. Spoofing is a new wrinkle designed to skirt this defense since many will be reluctant to block a local number, even if it is bogus.

In August, the FCC proposed a fine of $82 million against an individual who allegedly made more than 21 million spoofed robocalls and a $120 million fine against another perpetrator.

Right now, it would appear the best way to overcome this tactic will be for the telephone companies to develop technology (if they haven’t already done so) which will prevent any person or entity from making a call utilizing a false number.

After all, the telephone companies have proven their expertise many times in the past for developing technology to meet current demands and trends. If you don’t believe that, just look closely at your next phone bill; you’ll see just how innovative the phone companies can be.

In the meantime, don’t give out personal information to callers you don’t personally know and remember, if the call comes while you’re having dinner, it’s probably from a telemarketer, no matter the number which is showing on caller ID.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.