What Is Call Spoofing?

Quick Answer

Call spoofing is when someone disguises their caller ID information to hide who they really are. Scammers may use call spoofing to commit fraud by impersonating government agencies or companies and requesting money or your personal information.

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As communication technology advances, scammers continue to find new ways to swindle innocent victims out of money. Call spoofing is when a caller pretends to be someone else to illegally defraud someone. The best way to protect yourself against call spoofing is to understand how it works so you can identify it before a fraudster can take advantage of you.

What Is a Spoof Call?

Scammers make spoof calls to pass themselves off as someone you already trust, such as a legitimate company you do business with or a government office. When the scammer gets you on the phone, they may try to convince you to give them money or hand over your private information. Here are a few examples of phone scams:

  • Bank account scams: Someone pretending to be a representative from your bank calls and says that there's an issue with your account, and that you must provide your banking information so they can solve the problem. In reality, this person is trying to get the information to access your money.
  • Government scams: In this scam, someone poses as a government representative and says something bad will happen or that you'll miss out on a certain benefit if you don't provide your information and Social Security number. This is aimed at stealing your information to commit fraud.
  • Unpaid tax scams: Someone calls you saying you need to pay them immediately for an unpaid tax bill to avoid being arrested, fined or deported. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says agencies like the IRS will not call to threaten you about unpaid bills. Typically, you'll receive a letter discussing what you owe and options for payment.
  • Tech support scams: A fraudster contacts you claiming that there is a problem with your computer. They may try to charge you for fake repair services, or, if you give them remote access, they may try to install malware or other unwanted programs.
  • Prize and business opportunity scams: Someone calls saying you won a prize or tries to pitch you a business opportunity. They'll say that all you need to do to claim that prize is pay a small upfront fee. After you pay the fee, however, the scammer disappears with your cash.

How to Avoid Call Spoofing

Call spoofing can be hard to detect, especially if the number on your caller ID looks legitimate. However, taking the following steps could help you avoid getting duped.

Don't Pick Up Calls From Unknown Numbers

Avoid picking up calls from numbers you don't know. If you pick up a call from a number you don't recognize and they make requests that seem suspect, hang up.

Hang Up and Call Back

If you're in doubt about whether a call is legit but want to make sure, immediately hang up and contact the government office or company yourself to confirm details. If you don't recognize the name of the organization contacting you, you probably don't have to call back.

Don't Give Out Information on the Phone

Receiving a call out of the blue from a caller who asks for information is a red flag. If you didn't initiate a call directly with a bank or company using a verified telephone number, do not give out personal information, and hang up.

Avoid Replying With "Yes" or "No"

Watch out for people who try to bait you to say "yes" by asking whether you can hear them on the phone. They may make a voice recording of your answer which could be used out of context to agree to future calls or transactions.

Don't Fall for Fear Tactics

Scammers may resort to threats hoping you'll make quick decisions without taking the time to second guess their true identity. Don't be afraid to hang up and ask a family member or trusted friend for their opinion if you're not sure whether or not the call is legitimate.

Block Unknown Numbers

Certain smartphones let you block or silence certain calls within the device. iPhones running iOS 13 and later have a "silence unknown callers" feature. You can also block unknown callers on a Samsung. If your phone doesn't have a call blocking feature, you could try downloading a call blocking app. For a home phone, you could purchase a blocker device or reach out to your service provider to see what blocking features are available.

Don't Allow Remote Access to Your Computer

Scammers may call and pretend to be a computer technician who needs to run a diagnostic test on your computer. Never give an unsolicited caller remote access to any of your devices, even if they claim to be from a large telecommunications company like Microsoft.

The Bottom Line

If you get an unsolicited phone call asking for money or private information, chances are you're being scammed. The best defense against phone scams is playing offense. Use your phone's call blocking feature and be skeptical of each unexpected call you receive.

If you or anyone you know is a victim of a spoofing scam, you can report it to the FCC. In the event that you think your credit may be compromised because of a scam, consider setting up a fraud alert. Fraud alerts give you a heads up if anyone tries to open an account in your name, which could help you uncover identity theft before it does any financial damage.

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