I recently learned that I'm a victim of a form of identity theft.
Someone has hijacked the number of my landline phone to make outbound sales calls to people — hiding behind my name and number which is popping up on the Caller ID on their phones. The phenomenon is called “spoofing” and been around for several years.
Here's what happened: A few weeks ago, I started receiving calls from people saying they just missed a call from my number; “Did you just call me?” I hadn't.
I ignored the irritation until Thursday night, when I received four or five calls in a row around 5:30 p.m., which now makes sense as that's when many people arrive home from work. While I was explaining to one person that I'd fielded similar calls from others and I hadn't called them or her, two other folks left messages. One man said he had a hurt hand, and apologized that he didn't answer my call in time. Another lady bawled me out for hanging up in her ear.
The unjust reprimand finally prompted me to call the Cox Communications, my carrier. My first two calls, to separate customer service representatives, were less than fruitful. The first man suggested changing my number. The second gal explained how I could block calls from the incoming numbers, of which I'd made a log. But I wanted to keep my long-standing number.
Finally, the third rep listened and passed my complaint to their help department, which knew about spoofing. The help desk expert who followed up explained that spoofing is a crime, and that these calls aren't robocalls, or being placed by an automatic outbound dialer, but by singular or small-group telemarketers who captured my number through a telephone directory posted on the Web.
She offered to change my number to an unlisted one, but that comes with a fee of $4 a month, likely more with taxes and fees. I'm too cheap. Plus, my number already has been stolen.
Meanwhile, she on my behalf did file the infraction with the Federal Communications Commission at fcc.gov. After we hung up, I went to the website, searched for “spoofing” and found even more information.
My experience is yet another reminder not to give out account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother's maiden names, passwords and other identifying information. That's because spoofers not only can be disguising their identity so that you'll pick up the phone and they can launch their sales spiels for a legitimate product or service, but they also can be thieves who want to steal your identity or tap your bank accounts.
No matter what name or number is showing on your Caller ID, hang up and call back the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company's or government agency's website to find out if the entity that supposedly called you actually needs the requested information from you.
The Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, signed into law in December 2010, prohibits Caller ID spoofing. Violators are subject to a penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation. Even before passage of this act, FCC rules required telemarketers to pass accurate caller ID information — displaying their name or the names and telephone numbers of the companies for which they're selling. For violations, the FCC can seek a monetary fine.
To report caller ID spoofing or other telemarketing or telephone fraud, go to www.fcc.gov/complaints or call the FCC's consumer center at (888) 225-5322.
And if you call me, leave a message. As a Caller ID spoofing victim, I'm only answering the calls from those whose names and numbers I recognize!