MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - In Tennessee, it's now a crime to "spoof" your phone number on caller ID with the intent to rip someone off.
By "spoof," I mean the trick a phishing scammer uses to disguise his phone number. He'll use a robo-dialer, disposable cell phone or an app to make that phone number showing up on your caller ID appear to come from someplace it's not. Sometimes, the number will be your number. The point is to confuse you into answering the phone and to make it more difficult to trace the call.
Kevin Walters, communications director for the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance, said lawmakers amended the state's anti-phishing law to make it a Class A misdemeanor -- punishable up to $10,000 per violation -- to "spoof" a number showing up on a consumer's caller ID in an attempt to "...defraud, harm or steal."
"As scammers become more sophisticated and sharpen their deceitful tactics, we must adapt in order to continue to protect consumers, especially the vulnerable and elderly," said the department's Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. "These new protections give our partners in law enforcement more ways to punish bad actors and, hopefully, prevent scammers from hurting our senior population."
The problem isn't punishing "bad actors." The problem is finding them. Caller ID "spoofing" has become so sophisticated, even the most aggressive and electronically adept police forces struggle to trace the spoofed calls to their actual sources.
The irony is there's an easy solution to combating these calls: stop answering them. Stop answering calls you do not recognize on your caller ID, even if the area code is familiar or if the number showing up is your own. Remember, these calls are randomly generated. When you answer them -- even if you don't fall for the scam -- you confirm to the automated service that yours is a legitimate working phone number. The scammer will sell your number on mass marketing lists to other scammers and telemarketers. Then, your call volume will skyrocket.
The less you answer calls you don't recognize on caller ID, the more they will eventually taper off and disappear. Scammers will not continue to keep a legitimate number 'on rotation' in their spoofing operations if it does not generate a personal, human interaction.
The Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs also suggested following these guidelines on caller ID spoofing:
- Don't answer the phone if your number shows up on your caller ID.
- Don't attempt to call an unfamiliar number back, and do not press any buttons if prompted.
- If you do answer the call, don't give out your personal or financial information. Never give your personal information over the phone to someone you don't know or in a call that you did not initiate.
- If you believe you're the victim of a caller ID spoofing scam, call your state's consumer affairs division.
- If you lost money through a caller ID spoofing scam, immediately report it to your local police or sheriff's department.