Iowa Attorney General

Caller ID Spoofing

Don't Rely on Caller ID to Verify Who's Calling

While caller ID can help you screen unknown or unwanted calls, callers can easily manipulate your display to hide their identity or pretend to be someone else. The technique is called spoofing. Unfortunately, spoofing can make it impossible to know for sure who is really calling your line. You cannot trust the information that appears on a caller ID display.

Criminals who spoof caller ID will try to 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.

Here are some common spoofing examples:

  • IRS Scams: Criminals, from anywhere in the world, can spoof your caller ID display to show an actual or fake Internal Revenue Service (IRS) listing. The callers claim they are with the IRS and you must pay back taxes or penalties immediately to avoid arrest or some type of imminent legal trouble.
  • Government Agency Scams: Callers may manipulate your caller ID to display contact information from any federal, state, or local governmental agency, including a law enforcement agency. In these types of scams, callers demand immediate payment for something or seek personal information.
  • Tech Support Scams: Scammers can manipulate your caller ID display to show an actual or fake computer support listing. Callers claim that an Internet trace determined that your computer is infected with a virus. Callers urge you to allow them to remotely access your computer to fix the supposed problem, and demand immediate payment.
  • Grandparent Scams: Your caller ID device may falsely display a law enforcement agency, attorney’s office, hospital, or a cell phone number. A 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. Callers may claim that they are with your financial institution or even law enforcement and are investigating a fraud case. Callers seek personal financial information (such as account or credit card numbers), personally identifying information (such as your mother’s maiden name), or passwords. They may try to trick you by asking you to "verify" personal information.
  • Sales and survey calls: Callers may spoof your caller ID device to display false or incomplete caller ID information, or even display 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 Do They Do It?

Spoofing services and technologies are readily available. 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 any person or entity from transmitting misleading or inaccurate Caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongly obtain anything of value.  If no harm is intended or caused, spoofing is not illegal.  In some cases, spoofing can be permitted by courts for people who have legitimate reasons to hide their information, such as law enforcement agencies working on cases, victims of domestic abuse or doctors who wish to discuss private medical matters.

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

Anyone who is illegally spoofing can face penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation. 

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 (most government websites end with ".gov."). 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 www.fcc.gov or call 888-CALL-FCC (888-225-5322).

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