Caller ID Spoofing: The Good, the bad, the ugly

Posted on November 28, 2017 by Andrea Mocherman

Have you received calls lately from local numbers, and then you’ve answered it because you thought it was someone you know? You are not alone. Caller ID lets consumers avoid unwanted phone calls by displaying caller names and phone numbers, but the caller ID feature is sometimes manipulated by “spoofers” who masquerade as representatives of banks, creditors, insurance companies, or even the government. It’s really frustrating for consumers to receive these calls and/or have their number spoofed. Not familiar with Caller ID spoofing? Let’s take a closer look.

What is Caller ID Spoofing?

Caller ID spoofing is the act of altering the information forwarded to your caller ID in order to hide the true origin ID. In simpler terms, caller ID spoofing allows you to display a phone number different than the actual number from which the call was placed. Oftentimes, the most important aspect of caller ID spoofing is spoofing the area code, thus giving you the ability to appear as though they’re calling from a specific location.

Spoofing is illegal – in some cases

In the US and many other countries, it is illegal to falsify Caller ID information. The United States Truth in Caller ID Act was recently signed into law and makes it illegal to spoof caller ID information for unlawful purposes. For example, if phone spoofing is used to commit fraud or otherwise perpetrate a crime that is considered unlawful purposes.

You might ask yourself, what is considered “lawful spoofing?” The sharing economy is a perfect example of lawful spoofing. They utilize call masking services to protect the identity of a driver or pet sitter from the consumer and vice versa. The benefits of doing this are two-fold. First it keeps everyone involved in the transaction safe, and second, it keeps the company, such as or Lyft, in the middle of the money exchange.

Unfortunately, most spoofing is being done by telemarketers from companies with questionable motives attempting to appear more legitimate. But since the law presumes that spoofed calls are not in themselves harmful, the practice continues. And although most spoofing is illegal, the nature of phone spoofing makes it tricky to figure out who actually made the call in the first place. Moreover, many of the perpetrators are based outside the U.S., effectively placing them beyond the reach of the law.

“Neighbor spoofing” is on the rise

Not sure what neighbor spoofing is? It’s when callers disguise their real phone numbers with a fake phone number that has the same area code and prefix as yours. The idea of using a recognizable local number is that the caller believes you are more likely to pick up because you might think it is a neighbor, your child’s school or a local store.

If you don’t know who it is, don’t answer

Our general rule of thumb, however, is even if the number looks similar to your phone number (same area code), don’t answer the call and let the caller leave a voicemail. If there’s no voicemail, either the call was spam, or the message wasn’t that important, to begin with. If the caller does leave a voicemail, you can decide for yourself whether the call was legitimate or not.

Think you have been spoofed?

If you receive a call and you suspect caller ID information has been falsified, or you think the rules for protecting the privacy of your telephone number have been violated, you can file a complaint with the FCC.