WMC Investigates: Phone Fraud

WMC Investigates: Phone Fraud
Stop trusting caller ID ... and start screening it. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
Stop trusting caller ID ... and start screening it. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
"They're calling pretty much every day," said Catrina Hare of East Memphis. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
"They're calling pretty much every day," said Catrina Hare of East Memphis. (Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)

(WMC) - You can't trust caller ID anymore.

Scam artists have accessed the decommissioned landline phone numbers of dead or canceled customers in order to "spoof" caller ID and push a credit card services scam, according to Tennessee telecom regulators.

"They're calling pretty much every day," said Catrina Hare of East Memphis.

Hare said each call she has received has been a robo-call, prohibited under federal law. Each time, she said the automated messages attempted to bait her into punching a number for credit card services.

"Scam credit card services," she recognized.

But each time, she said her caller ID revealed a number eerily similar to her own phone number.

"It was strange that it was just a digit off from our home phone number," she said.

That is by design, according to Stacy Balthrop, deputy chief of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority's Consumer Services Division.

Balthrop confirmed that telemarketers have learned how to forage for decommissioned phone numbers, program them into caller ID, then use them to solicit consumers with similar numbers.

"It is a computer program that they're using to make those numbers similar, and we believe that it does increase the odds that the consumer will answer the phone," she said.

In Hare's case, at least one of the calls that solicited her exploited the name and former landline number of a deceased East Memphis woman.

She showed us a name that displayed on her caller ID during one of the scam solicitations:  "Mary Mooney."

We traced the name and number to a "Mary Mooney" in the Gaisman Park neighborhood of East Memphis. Through records and through contact with her family in Kansas, the WMC Action News 5 Investigators learned Mooney passed away five years ago.

"I was sad and upset that my gran, who was a wonderful woman and who had a good name ... and that name was being used to possibly perpetrate a scam," said Mooney's grandson Jay Mooney.

The scam is culling not only the old numbers of the deceased, but also the numbers of living consumers who have canceled their landlines.

Another woman who contacted the WMC Action News 5 Investigators said she kept getting calls from a number two digits off of her number.

We traced the number on her caller ID to Ronald Montgomery of East Memphis.

"I haven't had it for four years," Montgomery said, confirming it was his old landline number. "So that's a way to make people answer the phone? That's messed up."

The WMC Action News 5 Investigators have also heard from consumers who have received the same solicitations -- and their own names and numbers have appeared on their caller ID systems.

"Again, we believe that it increases the likelihood that a consumer will answer the phone," Balthrop reiterated.

ANDY'S CONSUMER PAY-OFF:  SCREENING YOUR CALLER ID

* Never answer a call you don't recognize, even if the area code's familiar or the number's a digit or two off of your own number.

* If you do answer, and it's a robo-call, hang up immediately.

* Do not press any buttons if prompted. That could turn your phone service over to the solicitor, who may use it to make international phone calls.

* Never call the number back. If you do -- or even if you answer a robo-call -- you will confirm to the solicitor that yours is a legitimate, working number. The solicitor may sell your number to other telemarketers, and the volume of calls may increase.

Copyright 2014 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.