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Caller ID Spoofing

Caller identification, or caller ID, is a telephone feature that enables the recipient of a call to see the caller’s phone number and name displayed before answering the phone. While caller ID can help you screen unknown or unwanted calls, callers can easily manipulate your display to show incomplete or false information--even your own name and phone number. The technique is called spoofing.

Why They Do It
Criminals who spoof caller ID hope the displayed information will help convince you of their false identity and story. Others may spoof your caller ID simply to increase the likelihood that you’ll answer the phone. The calls can come from individuals or robo-calling systems. For example:

  • IRS Scam: A criminal, from anywhere in the world, can spoof your caller ID display to show an actual or fake Internal Revenue Service (IRS) listing. The caller claims he or she is with the IRS and you must pay back taxes immediately to avoid arrest or some type of imminent legal trouble.
  • Tech Support Scam: A scammer can manipulate your caller ID display to show an actual or fake computer support listing. The caller claims that an Internet trace has determined that your computer is infected with a virus. The caller urges you to allow remote access your computer to fix the supposed problem for a fee.
  • Grandparent Scam: Your caller ID device may falsely display a law enforcement agency, attorney’s office, hospital, or a cell phone. The caller claims that he is your grandchild or is calling on behalf of your grandchild. The pretext of the call is that your grandchild is in trouble and needs immediate funds.
  • Identification Theft Scams: These can take many forms. The caller may claim that he or she is with your financial institution or even law enforcement and is investigating a fraud case. The caller seeks personal financial information (such as account or credit card numbers), personally identifying information (such as your mother’s maiden name), or passwords.
  • Sales and survey calls: The caller may spoof your caller ID device to display false or incomplete caller ID information, or even your own name and number, to increase the likelihood that you’ll answer the call. The call may be a sales or survey call.

How They Do It
Spoofing services are readily available for robo-calls or individual calls. They allow the caller to enter in any information—including any name and any phone number—to appear on the recipient’s caller ID display. The calls, which can be placed from anywhere in the world, can be difficult, if not impossible, to trace.

Is Caller ID Spoofing Legal?
The federal Truth in Caller ID Act prohibits callers from deliberately spoofing caller ID to display inaccurate information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value. There are some exemptions, however, for law enforcement agencies and situations where courts have authorized caller ID manipulation.

Telemarketers must display their own phone number or the phone number for the seller on whose behalf the telemarketer is calling.

How to Handle It
Do not provide personal information to a stranger who calls, regardless of what appears on your caller ID display. To ensure you are not dealing with a criminal posing as someone else, hang up and place your own call. Look up the number of the entity that supposedly called you from a known source such as a phone book, invoice, or known website. If you are having trouble locating the information, ask someone you know and trust to help you.

How to Report It
If you receive a call from a telemarketer without the required information or suspect that a person or entity has illegally spoofed your caller ID display, you can report it to the FCC at or call 888-CALL-FCC (888-225-5322).

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