There's a new technology out there, and it's more trouble than it's worth: Caller ID Spoofing. Find out how everyone from credit card thieves to telemarketers are using this tricky technique to fool you, and how you can protect yourself.
Caller ID has become many Americans’ secret weapon against everyone from shadowy telemarketers (“Hunny, it says ‘Caller Unknown’, let’s ignore it”) to dreaded in-laws (“Hunny, it’s Aunt Bertha, I’ll pretend I don’t speak English again”).
But even this once-sacred method of protecting yourself from obnoxious phone calls is no longer foolproof. In fact, nowadays it can make YOU the target.
This is because of a rapidly spreading “innovation” known as Caller ID spoofing. In this favorite activity of high-tech geeks and 14-year-olds, users simply give a spoofing service the number they want to call, as well as a fake number (and sometimes name) that they want to appear on the target’s Caller ID, and the service places the misleading info into the Caller ID system.
The result: spoofers can convince you that you are talking to just about anyone, from the police to the White House to Angelina Jolie.
Making matters worse, spoofing services are readily available over the internet, and they are disturbingly cheap: one of the most popular, Spoofcard.com, charges only $10 for 60 minutes of call time.
These services are also very easy to use. In 2006, Spoofcard had to suspend Paris Hilton’s account with the site, after she was accused of using spoofing to hack into her arch-rival Lindsay Lohan’s cell phone and send nasty messages to all of Lohan’s friends. The terrifying take-away from this scandal: if Paris Hilton can successfully use spoofing, then just about any human being (and even several breeds of intelligent ape) can too.
Why is this alarming? For one, scam artists are beginning to use spoofing to trick people into giving up their credit card information, posing as representatives of the victim’s credit company, and having the Caller ID to “prove” it.
Even worse, some people have actually begun to use spoofing to call in fake 911 emergencies, using a rival’s Caller ID, in order to send police (and sometimes even SWAT teams) to the rival’s home.
In one such instance of “swatting”, as this prank is called, someone called in to Texas police, impersonating the father of an internet acquaintance, and told them that he “had shot and killed members of [the] family, that he was holding hostages, that he was using hallucinogenic drugs, and that he was armed with an AK47," and proceeded to demand $50,000 and safe transportation across the border to Mexico.
Not surprisingly, SWAT teams were immediately called in to the scene, despite the fact that the story bore a disturbing resemblance to the plot of Die Hard 2. Finding no hostages, no drugs, and not even a single AK47, the police finally figured out that they’d been duped, and tracked down the spoofing culprit, who was then tried and convicted in federal court.
Of course, even though hundreds of these “swatting” pranks take place each year, you probably don’t have to worry about having hoards of police burst into your house anytime soon. But you should still be aware of other, more widespread caller ID spoofing scams.
In particular, many especially aggressive telemarketers have started to use spoofing to display fake callback numbers, so that angry victims cannot call them back. Tragically, the victims do dial the number they see on Caller ID, and spend half an hour flipping out at some poor grandmother whose only crime was having a particularly appealing set of digits.
So, does this mean we can never trust our Caller IDs again? Well, there is one ray of hope when it comes to spoofing: the Feds are working on a bill to make it illegal. The “Truth in Caller ID Act” of 2007 has passed the House and is working its way through the Senate. If made into law, it would help to usher in a sunny future without “swatting”, voicemail hacking, or other sleazy techno-pranks.
And thank goodness. With the “Truth in Caller ID Act” in place, the next time you receive an angry, slurred voicemail from Lindsay Lohan, you’ll know it’s the real deal.