Phone spoofing involves intentionally masking Caller ID and using a phone number that the target is familiar with instead of the caller's true number. Hence, faking the caller ID information that shows up on the recipient's Caller ID display. Users can use the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to disguise their telephone numbers. Various private websites and mobile applications provide VoIP and spoofing services where subscribers can spoof their Caller IDs.
Caller ID spoofing is legal in the United States except when used to perpetrate ploys such as scamming or harming the call recipient. In some cases, scammers spoof their calls to hide their identities and take on the identities of legitimate organizations or government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or law enforcement agencies to deceive people into falling for their fraudulent schemes. The United States' Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 regulates caller ID spoofing. Based on the law, caller ID spoofing with the aim of stealing money or personal information is illegal and attracts a cash fine or a jail sentence, depending on the state.
Authorized uses of Caller ID spoofing involve a person concealing their Caller ID number for a legitimate cause. An example of this is where a medical practitioner spoofs their telephone number to display their hospitals' Caller ID when contacting patients from their homes. A law enforcement officer spoofing their Caller ID to investigate or conceal their telephone numbers from crime suspects is also permitted. Caller ID spoofing that is considered illegal include:
Impersonation scams occur when scammers mask their Caller IDs to take on the identities of government agencies or legitimate organizations’ employees. Scammers impersonate these legitimate entities to trick unsuspecting persons into disclosing their financial information or pay certain sums of money. For instance, a scammer may pretend to be an employee of a legitimate financial institution that the target is familiar with and request the target’s credit card details or other financial information while claiming to upgrade their account. Impersonation scams occur quite frequently in the United States and are usually components of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) scams.
Persons with malicious intentions use phone spoofing to play pranks on state residents or harass them. In some cases, the pranks may start with innocent intentions but later escalate beyond control and lead to financial ruin, bodily harm, and identity theft. For malicious pranks, individuals may spoof their numbers to appear as emergency services and then call in bomb threats to their victims’ homes or offices.
Telemarketing scams with spoofed numbers are quite prevalent in Missouri. Here, fraudsters contact their targets with spoofed robocalls and impersonate representatives of legitimate telemarketing companies. During the robocalls, the recipients are directed to follow certain prompts to connect with “supposed trusted live agents.” If they follow such prompts, the fraudsters will attempt to sell bogus products and services and steal victims' money.
Why is Phone Spoofing Illegal in Missouri?
Phone spoofing is illegal in Missouri when done to defraud or cause any form of harassment to the recipient and perpetrate any crime. Scammers often take advantage of phone spoofing by continuously falsifying their caller IDs, making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to track them. According to the Truth in Caller ID Act, phone spoofing is illegal if used to cause harm, defraud individuals, or illegally acquire valuables. Persons found guilty of illegal spoofing will be punished with a fine penalty or a jail term, which is determined by the severity of the offense committed. Spoofing is legal for authorized law enforcement purposes. However, persons that receive such calls are allowed to stay anonymous and not reveal any personal information.
A scammer mostly uses a number that the target is familiar with and would most likely feel comfortable answering and not suspect. These individuals may spoof their numbers to make their Caller IDs to display as the area codes of the targets' locations or even local law enforcement agents.
How Do You Know If Your Number Is Being Spoofed?
When an individual begins to receive continuous calls or text messages from unknown, unfamiliar numbers, where the callers inquire about products or services that the individual knows nothing about, it is possible that the individual’s number is being spoofed. This also includes random calls in continuation to conversations that were not initiated by the individual; here, the individual’s Caller ID is most likely being used to perpetrate phone scams. In some cases, the individual may receive calls from persons warning the individual never to call them again. These types of calls should be immediately reported to avoid being wrongfully accused of any scams associated with their Caller ID. Report such cases by filing a complaint on the FCC website or calling 1-888-CALL FCC (225-5322). A victim of spoofing can also record a voicemail, informing callers that their number is being spoofed.
How Can You Protect Yourself from Illegal Spoofed Calls?
It can be quite tricky to identify a spoofed call because spoofed calls most times appear to be from a familiar phone number. Regardless of this, MIssoruians can protect themselves from spoofed calls and avoid being preyed on by scammers who illegally spoof calls by the following these steps:
- Hang up the call if the caller claims to be representing a government agency or a legitimate organization and asks for any personal information. Never disclose any sensitive information over the phone.
- Terminate the call if the caller claims to be from a local law enforcement and attempts to extort money with arrest threats.
- Install call-blocking or phone number lookup mobile applications that enable users to block numbers associated with spoofed calls. If a user inputs a number in the search and does not receive any result, it is an indication that the number may be spoofed.
- Add your number to the Do Not Call List maintained by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to restrict spoofed robocalls. Missourians may also subscribe to the Missouri No-Call list.
- Report suspected Caller ID spoofing cases by filing a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) or the Federal Trade Commission. Individuals can also call the FTC on 1 (888) 382-1222 or the FCC on 1 (888) 225-5322.
Does Missouri Have Anti-Spoofing Laws?
Missouri passed Senate Bill 144, which became effective on August 28, 2019. This law adds Caller ID spoofing to the Missouri No-Call law and prohibits anyone from falsifying a Caller ID by deliberately entering false information into the phone caller-ID system with intent to defraud or harm the recipient.
Following the rise in the rate of Caller ID spoofing, Congress amended the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) to include the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009. According to this Act and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, entities are prohibited from falsifying Caller ID with the intent to defraud, inflict harm, or steal anything of value, including information. Persons that violate this law or the FCC rules will be punished with a penalty of between $10,000 and $1,000,000. Under the Act, spoofing is not illegal when the caller has lawful reasons to conceal their identity; examples include law enforcement agencies investigating a case or domestic abuse victims or doctors who wish to discuss confidential medical matters.
The FCC has informed all voice service providers that from June 2021, they will have to make caller ID authentication available on their networks using the STIR/SHAKEN protocols. The protocols verify caller identification information from the point the call originates from to its destination before it finally reaches the receiver.
What Are Common Phone Scams Involving Caller ID Spoofing in Missouri?
Fraudsters illegally use Caller ID spoofing to conceal their numbers to defraud and mislead unsuspecting persons. In most cases, these persons often use phone spoofing to impersonate reputable organizations and government agencies to achieve their ploys. Persons that fall victim to this can file complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) or contact the Federal Trade Commission on 1 (888) 382-1222. Common phone spoofing scams prominent in Missouri include:
- Charity and religious organization scams
- Elderly scams
- Lottery and gift card scams
- Medicare insurance scams
- Bank scams
- IRS scams
- Telemarketing scams