The Checkout

Slamming, Spamming, Phishing, and Now Spoofing

For those of you who live and die by caller ID--answering only the numbers or names you recognize--be forewarned: That number or name on the machine may be fake.

State and federal government officials are starting to investigate a practice called "spoofing" that allows callers to conceal their identity over the phone.

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist has launched a probe into spoofing, sending out three investigative subpoenas to get information about some of the Web sites that sell spoofing services.

Here's what some of the Web sites say:

"Log in at Tricktel and make 100 percent anonymous prank calls."

"SpoofCard calling cards offers you the ability to change what someone sees on their caller ID display when they receive a phone call.....Key Benefits: Make calls truly private, Ability to record calls, Change your voice, Fun and inexpensive, Easy to use and fast to set up."

At SpoofTech: "You too can experience the awesome power, sheer stealth, and pure enjoyment of Caller ID Spoofing or Call Display Spoofing."

"SpoofTel offers you the ability to change what someone sees on their call display when they receive a phone call. When they look to see who's calling you can show any phone number you wish on their call display. When you Spoof someone, you are protecting your privacy by not showing your real number on their Caller ID."

According to Crist, some of these Web sites sell a virtual "calling card" for $10 that provides 60 minutes of talk time. The user dials a toll-free number, then keys in the destination number and the number the caller wishes to display on the caller ID. Some Web sites also provide optional voice scrambling that can alter a person's voice, such as from male to female or adult to child.

"We don't know how big a problem this is," Crist said in a telephone interview. "All we know is that news accounts are telling us this is happening. We don't want people falsely presenting themselves and thereby deceitfully selling a product."

Crist added that there's another reason why he's particularly worried about spoofing: "In Florida, we're always concerned about our voting being accurate." And that means the campaigning has to be accurate as well, he said. With spoofing, there are a lot of opportunities for candidates or their supporters to pretend to be calling on behalf of someone else to make false claims against their rivals or about themselves. Telephone misinformation has happened in previous political campaigns, said Crist, who's running for governor in the state.

And it's not just Florida where there's a problem. Last fall, U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) received a lot of complaints from constituents who had received recorded messages bad-mouthing the congressman. Constituents said the caller-ID said the calls came from his office, but they didn't.

Meanwhile, wired.com reports the Federal Communications Commission has also opened a spoofing investigation.

Have you been spoofed? Let me know the details at thecheckout@washpost.com.

By  |  March 29, 2006; 8:31 AM ET Consumer News
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Comments

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One has to wonder what Tricktel's business plan looked like -- what is the purpose of the business; who their clients would be; what was the projected revenue?

Was this services sold as an entertainment package? a game?

Geared towards whom? The "is your refridgerator running?" pre-teen set? Surely not, they have no money. Hmmmm -- so, who exactly did they project their big $$$ clientele would be??

Posted by: Maria, Columbia MO | March 29, 2006 9:28 AM

I regularly get phone calls where caller id has been suppressed or something vague like "Ohio call" has been inserted. Often these are political campaigns or "non-profits" (some of the latter are covers for sales pitches), but the use of false or suppressed caller id is illegal even for nonprofits. Unfortunately there is no way to enforce it and no agency that wants to tackle the problem.

Posted by: Chuck | March 29, 2006 12:47 PM

And how does a spoofed/blocked/etc. caller ID hurt us? Um, it doesn't.

When the phone rings, we have two options:
A) answer it
B) don't answer it

If we opt for B, it rings and rings until the machine picks up and the caller hangs up.

So, to decide, we check the caller ID box. It says "Blocked" or "Unavailable" or "The President" etc so we let it ring and ring. Or, it says "Telemarketer" or "Political Campaign" so we let it ring and ring. Or, it says "Family Member" or "Friend" so we pick it up.

There's no difference between "Unavailable" and "Telemarketer" in our decision. Either way, the spoofing will have to show a name of somebody we want to talk to (or at least know) before we pick it up. Let them spoof to say whatever they want. It will only be a slim chance the spoof will be somebody I know.

Posted by: Bob | March 29, 2006 1:43 PM

Bob - you make an excellent point - ultimately it is always our decision to answer the phone or not. However, my concern was with the information that said the caller could pretend to be someone else -- does this include someone I already know? In other words, does this program permit numbers that normally call my house to be used by these "pranksters?"

Posted by: Maria, Columbia MO | March 29, 2006 2:51 PM

Yes, I no longer answer the phone if I don't recognize the caller id, but that still requires my attention and is distracting.

And you never know, it could be a relative in trouble calling from a coin phone. Probably not, but...

It's much like spam: sometimes (admittedly not often) they manage to make it look like legitimate mail. I still have to open some spam to make sure. The whole idea is, we should not be getting fake phone calls (phone spam).

Posted by: Chuck | March 29, 2006 3:11 PM

"In other words, does this program permit numbers that normally call my house to be used by these "pranksters?"

Maria, I assume yes BUT they would have to know the number of somebody that calls your house. I assume the system doesn't know which numbers have called your home (if it did, that would be REALLY scary). However, let's say you often get calls from your friend John Doe at 703-123-4567, the spoofer would have to know the name and number (or at least the number) to make you think it was from John.

However, I think the bigger issue is if they can change the number to say something like "AT&T Payphone, 703-123-4567" so (as Chuck says), it makes you think somebody is calling from a payphone and needs your help.

I guess my point is of all the things that can harm us out there, this is really insignificant.

Posted by: Bob | March 29, 2006 5:16 PM

Uh, for the folks who don't appreciate the issue of caller ID spoofing. The issue isn't that you can choose to answer or not answer the phone. It's about what someone can do with spoofing technolgy.

Ex: I go thru your trash and see that you bank at PNC Bank. I spoof the local PNC bank - the number AND business names comes up. I say that we've had a glitch with the computers, blah, blah, blah.

That's what creative people can do w/caller ID spoofing.

Posted by: Gaithersburg, MD | March 29, 2006 7:14 PM

Gaithersburg, you raise a good point. However, it all boils down to "Don't give information to somebody who calls you." Get the number yourself (i.e. from the phonebook) and call back.

Posted by: Bob | March 30, 2006 8:49 AM

You are missing one potential use. Suppose someone calls a classmate using the caller ID of another classmate. They could then say horrible things and get an innocent person in trouble.

Posted by: Concerned parent of teenager. | March 30, 2006 11:40 AM

I am even more concerned for indviduals who may use this technology to harrass someone. Say you have an "ex" who is stalking you. With inventive use of numbers he/she may know and the ability to alter the voice, this could become terrorizing!

Posted by: Nanette | March 30, 2006 2:07 PM

And again the elderly would be particularly at risk here of seeing a "trusted" number on their caller ID and agreeing to donate money, give account details, etc.

Posted by: Granddaughter | March 30, 2006 5:51 PM

Have any of you ever heard of "Let the buyer beware"? Caller ID spoofing is no exception. It is up to you the consumer to make sure that you are not gettign the short end of the stick when you purchase a product. That means it is up to you (and your own intelligence) to determine the legitimacy of a product. The same rule applies here. In my opinion, we should start harassign the credit card companies since they use outdated security measures to validate credit cards. Shame on them. And shame on any of you who feel that, God forbid, you should have to do a little thinking in life.

Posted by: Corey | April 3, 2006 11:35 AM

I agree with the post written by Corey. Do we ban guns becasue some people use them to kill people? No we do not. This is no different. I see several legitimate purposes that spoofing can be used for. Let's say I am a PC technician and my cell phone dies so I have to make a call from a payphone. The customer cannot see that it is me so they do not answer. I can then spoof the call as my own number so that the business knows it is me calling and will answer. I aslo see this being a good tool for investigators. I think any intelligent person would draw the simple conclusion that we need to get criminals off the street, not the commercial tools they exploit.

Posted by: Bill | April 3, 2006 11:39 AM

I think collection agencies could also benefit from this tool. If you do not want them using it on you, here's a thought....PAY YOUR BILLS!!!!

Posted by: Gerald | April 3, 2006 11:40 AM

I am an economics professor at a major university and I think that the people who use fake caller ID numbers for fraud should be thrown in jail. However, since there are legitimate uses, we should not ban the technology altogether. I agree with the post above that states "let the buyer beware". It works in economics and should be applied here as well. When exactly did we become a nation full of people which think they "deserve" everything. Is "thinking" that bad a thing? If all of this is just too much for you to think about, I have just 4 words for you:

The Sylvan Learning Center

Posted by: Sylvia -- Lexington, KY | April 3, 2006 6:03 PM

Gaithersburg, MD wrote:

Uh, for the folks who don't appreciate the issue of caller ID spoofing. The issue isn't that you can choose to answer or not answer the phone. It's about what someone can do with spoofing technolgy.


Now my response to you Gaithersburg, MD:

I am guessing you fail to see the absurdity of what you are saying. Look what people can do with guns, and they are legal. Look what people can do with alcohol, and it is legal. It sounds like you have a problem with America altogether. To this I say send me a postcard from England once you get there...oh yeah, they have nudity on television in England so you'll probably have your hands full trying to censor that before you go on to smaller fish like caller ID spoofing. God Bless America...and the intellectually challanged folks over in Gaithersburg, MD.

Posted by: response to Gaithersburg, MD | April 3, 2006 6:46 PM

Alcohol is legal, but DUI and killing people with your car isn't. Guns are legal, but using them to murder people isn't.

Fraud, libel, and other dishonest uses of spoofing should be punished.

This attitude of "I can do whatever I want to anyone I want to do it to" is appalling.
As a civilized society we are supposed to have codes of behavior to protect decent law-abiding people from criminals.


Posted by: Anonymous | April 4, 2006 2:10 PM

I use a spoofing service to check on my daughter's whereabouts when she is out. She may avoid her mother's calls but she always answers when one of her good friends (me actually spoofing as a freind) calls.

Posted by: Norfolk, VA | April 4, 2006 10:05 PM

I always use spoofing when I call someone to sell time-shares. f I use the husband's work number, the wife always answers it. This is America, after all. It is my right to scam people. What are they going to do next, try to ban handguns just because their only use is to kill people? In Communist Russia, they have no caller ID.

Posted by: Chuck | April 5, 2006 4:27 PM

My daughter was issued a citation for Disorderly Use of Telephone, because a neighbor showed the cop our phone number on their caller ID.

My daughter did not make this call. At the time she was outside running in our sprinkler.

We now have to go to court to prove she did not make the prank call.

The other way this service can be used is to get another person in trouble. The person who called the police on our daughter is angry with me. By purchasing a $10.00 calling card, she can go to a pay phone and dial the 1-800 number, punch in the phone number she wants to call and then punch in the number she wants to show up on her caller ID. This is what I believe happened in our case.

It is a good thing that my husband and I know we had the phone in our possession at the time the so called prank call was made. Our last incoming call was seven minutes after the alledged prank call was made from our phone line. The phone was on the counter by my husband during that time and the kids were outside running in the sprinkler.

This is a very dangerous tool to have available.

Posted by: Another concerned parent of a teen | July 6, 2006 7:34 PM

I was arrested because someone accused me of making a threatening call, which I never made. The party who targeted me, spoofed my cell number and made it appear, as if I made the call. Eventually, I was able to prove that I hadn't made the call by providing my cell phone bill, but clearly this tool can hurt an innocent party.

Posted by: A spoofed target | September 27, 2006 8:48 PM

Have you seen the SpoofCard website? I think that this "spoofing" service is of particular concern for someone who is being stalked. The idea that this service provides a voice altering feature is really scary!

Posted by: Cheyenne | September 30, 2006 9:53 AM

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