Getting Phone Calls From Local Numbers? Watch Out: It Might Be ‘Neighbor Spoofing’ Robo-Callers
by Christopher Boyle
NEW YORK - Telemarketers have always been a thorn in the side of pretty much anyone and everyone with a phone, and while the advent of cell phones – whose numbers are not typically made public, unlike landlines – have made it more difficult for unwanted solicitors to interrupt your quality time, telemarketers are a crafty bunch, and unfortunately there’s a new way that’s popped up lately for them to disturb your peace once again…even if you DO have a cell phone with an unlisted number.
But it’s not just the fact that telemarketers are calling you on your private cell phone; it’s also HOW they’re doing it, which is getting ever-deceptive and, quite frankly, creepy. Often, your average person will tend to ignore a phone call if it’s coming from an area code that’s in no way local to them, but what is the area code IS local? And furthermore, what if the three-digit prefix of the number was the same as yours as well? Most people would almost certainly pick up – even if they had no idea who the caller was – out of sheer curiosity. Surely, they may say to themselves, I must know who this is?
However, upon answering, you’re almost always greeted by that tell-tale momentary bout of silence that usually accompanies an auto-dialing program right before a telemarketer or – even worse – a robo-caller starts obnoxiously telling you about their latest sales pitch, whether it’s a posh vacation get-away or a landscaping or roofing offer. But no matter what, the result is always the same…you’re time is being invaded and wasted in the most underhanded and deceptive of ways. But how does a telemarketer – who likely resides on the opposite coast or even country as yourself – manage to trick you into thinking they’re calling from around the block?
It’s a technique known as “neighbor spoofing,” and it’s a method where an automatic dialing machine not only starts calling online White Page Directory phone numbers sequentially, one right after the other, but with the ability to change the number that the dialing machine is displaying on the Caller ID of the call recipient each and every time as well, making sure to not only display the same area code but the same three-digit prefix as well. This is a cleaver technique that can fool most people into thinking that they simply MUST know that person who’s calling them – maybe its mom, or a cousin, or someone from work – and you’re almost compelled to pick up and answer. In years gone by this was a difficult task for phone spammers to achieve, but as technology as progressed, it has evolved to the point where it is relatively simple and cheap to do, which is why it’s become a fairly widespread – and supremely annoying – practice as of late.
And, unfortunately, it’s all quite legal. While the Truth in Caller ID Act – enacted in 2009 – outlaws telemarketers from misusing Caller ID services to spread or facilitate blatantly false information in an attempt to rip someone off, as long as the product or serviced being offered is perfectly legitimate, it’s not breaking the law. It doesn’t seem right, but it’s a major example of the law very much needing to catch up with technology.
If you end up answering the call of a spoofer, there are several steps to take to protect yourself from being conned or taken advantage of, including:
- Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother's maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious.
- If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency seeking personal information, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book or on the company's or government agency's website to verify the authenticity of the request.
- Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately.
- If you have a voice mail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it. Some voicemail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number. A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voice mail if you do not set a password.
Sadly, there’s little one can currently do about “neighbor spoofing” other than simply accepting it, albeit with a great deal of annoyance. Federal “Do Not Call” registries aren’t really much help in these situations due to the fact that someone who is going to all of the trouble to spoof the phone number they are calling from are probably not all that concerned about whether or not they’re violating the privacy of the person they’re calling; in addition, since a spoofed phone number is not legitimate, it’s not like the number can be used to identify the caller anyway. The best route when you see a strangely familiar yet alien number pop up on your phone s to just grit your teeth and let it go to voicemail; not answering may cause the caller to think the number is not active and will possible spare you further headaches in the future.