Caller ID Spoofing: What It Is and What You Should Do If You Run Into It

caller ID spoofing
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Normally you can count on caller ID to help you avoid unwanted phone calls.

When you get an unexpected call from a mysterious phone number from some weird, random area code, you’re less likely to pick up.

That’s why God invented voicemail, right?

Still, you’ve got to watch out for a scam known as “caller ID spoofing.” That’s when a con artist calls you using a disguised phone number, trying to trick you into answering your phone and giving up vital information.

It’s how scam artists are currently targeting immigrants, seeking to steal their identities.

Scammers claiming to work for “U.S. Immigration” are calling people across the country, trying to get access to their personal information to commit identity theft, the Department of Homeland Security is warning.

Using caller ID spoofing, the fraudsters are making it look like their phone calls are coming from the Department of Homeland Security’s hotline number (1-800-323-8603).

“The scammers demand to obtain or verify personally identifiable information from their victims through various tactics, including by telling individuals that they are the victims of identity theft,” the DHS’s Office of Inspector General said in its fraud alert. It also said many of these scammers “reportedly have pronounced accents.

The DHS says it never uses its hotline to make outgoing calls, so people shouldn’t answer phone calls that appear to be coming from the Homeland Security hotline.

This is the first time that particular hotline has been “spoofed,” DHS spokesman Arlen Morales told CNN. The federal agency has received about a dozen complaints about the scam, suggesting that the number of occurrences is likely much higher.

Caller ID Spoofing: Not Just a Problem for Immigrants

Whether you’re an immigrant or not, federal authorities are urging you to be on the lookout for phone spoofing scams.

For example, last year phone scammers in Pennsylvania threatened to send police to people’s homes to arrest them if they didn’t immediately use their debit cards to pay an outstanding fee.

These phone calls were spoofed to show the calls were supposedly coming from City Hall in Pottsville, Pennsylvania — but the calls weren’t really coming from the government at all.

The Federal Trade Commission offers the following tips for handling calls like this:

  • Don’t rely on caller ID to verify who’s calling. It can be nearly impossible to tell whether the caller ID information is real.
  • If you get a strange call from the government, hang up. If you want to check it out, visit that government agency’s official (.gov) website for contact information.
  • Government employees won’t call out of the blue to demand money or account information. Don’t give out — or confirm — your personal or financial information to someone who calls.
  • Don’t wire money or send money using a reloadable card. In fact, never pay someone who calls out of the blue, even if the name or number on the caller ID looks legit.
  • Feeling pressured to act immediately? Hang up. That’s a sure sign of a scam.

Your Turn: Have you ever been targeted by a phone spoofing scam? How did you handle it?

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He never answers his phone unless he recognizes the number.