If you think of a spoof as a harmless bit of dramatic tongue-in-cheek, think again. Today’s connotation is far more sinister: it means falsifying the information transmitted to a caller ID, email or social media account in order to lure the recipient into answering. Typically, scammers spoof a number to make it seem familiar. You might answer a call thinking it’s coming from someone in your neighborhood (or your credit card company or the government) and end up talking to a criminal half a world away. Their goal: to steal your money, identity or personal information to use it for their own gain.
Sometimes these callers are real people with convincing scripts in front of them, designed to confuse you and lure you in. Others might be robo-callers, simply checking to see if the call is picked up – have no fear, the actual crook will undoubtedly follow up at their own convenience.
How to Avoid Being Spoofed
Spoofing is on the rise, so it pays to be skeptical of unexpected contacts. As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says: if you don’t recognize a number, don’t answer it. And if you do get tricked into picking up, “Don’t hang on, hang up.” Anyone who really wants to reach you will leave a message.
Companies that ‘everyone’ seems to have an account with (think the IRS, Visa, Amazon) are particularly lucrative for scammers to spoof. If you have any doubt about a caller being an actual representative of, for example, your bank, you should call them back directly, using a number you know to be correct (one from a statement, not the one the caller presses on you).
AT&T has noted a growing volume of spoofed calls to its customers, some so convincing that the caller ID displays not only the AT&T name and number but even the recipients cell number and identification. There have been so many, in fact, that they’ve created an app for that. For voice messages, they recommend that you never give out personal information, regardless of how simple the request may seem; hang up immediately on anyone you suspect is a spoofer (don’t try to outsmart them); and report the call to the company or agency that supposedly contacted you. If it’s a text message, don’t click on any embedded links, or dial any phone numbers listed in them.
More advice from the FCC:
- If you answer the phone and are told to press a button to stop getting calls, just hang up. It will only have the opposite effect.
- Companies that legitimately need to reach you will usually send a written statement in the mail before calling, particularly if they’re asking for a payment.
- Don’t respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with a yes or a no.
- Never give out personal information such as account numbers, passwords or other identifying information if you are at all suspicious.
- Hang up if you are being pressured for any reason.
- Set a password for your voicemail, if possible, so a hacker spoofing your phone number can’t gain access to your messages.
- Check your voicemail periodically to make sure you aren't missing important calls and to clear out any spam calls that might fill your mailbox to capacity.
- Talk to your phone company about call blocking tools and check into apps that you can download to your mobile device.
This article is designed to provide informative material and is distributed with the understanding that it does not constitute legal or other professional advice. Opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice. Information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but its accuracy and interpretation are not guaranteed.