At the beginning of March, four U.S. senators proposed a bipartisan bill to help safeguard Americans against a financial scam that’s only becoming more and more widespread. Known as the Anti-Spoofing Penalties Modernization Act of 2021, the introduction of this legislation provides a great opportunity for more people to learn about the issue of spoofing – and how to protect themselves.
What Is Spoofing?
“Spoofing” is when a fraudster uses technology to pretend to be someone they’re not. Today, an increasingly common spoof is that a fraudster will mask the number they’re calling from and replace it with a different one, so that when you look at your caller ID, you’re more likely to answer the phone.
What Does a Telephone “Spoof” Look Like?
Spoofers operate in a number of ways. One common tactic is to replace their phone number with a phone number that’s similar or even exactly the same as your own phone number – so it looks like you’re receiving a phone call from yourself! Many people will be confused and curious enough to take the call.
Another method of spoofing is when the fraudster changes their number to one that you don’t recognize, but which has the same area code as your own. The idea is that if you see your area code on the caller ID, you’ll naturally assume it’s a neighbor or someone in your local community.
Be aware that scammers can even adjust what name appears with the phone number in your caller ID, making you think you’re receiving a call from the IRS, a bank, or another government organization with an official-sounding name. The scammer might also already have some personal details about you – such as your name, address and date of birth – which they will tell you over the phone to try and gain your trust.
Where’s the Scam in Spoofing?
Different spoofers have different kinds of fraudulent aims. Usually, the caller will ask you to share some kind of sensitive information, such as your bank account number, banking PIN , the password for your account, your social security number and so on.
Because you’ve already seen a familiar number or official-sounding name on your caller ID, spoofers are betting that you’ll be more likely to share information that normally you wouldn’t feel comfortable giving over the phone. Once the scammer has this information, they can use it to steal your identity and access your accounts.
How Can Your Protect Yourself?
The most important step you can take to avoid becoming the victim of a spoofing scam is simple: If you don’t recognize the phone number or name on your caller ID, don’t answer the phone!
If you do find yourself on a phone call where the person on the other end of the line is asking for sensitive personal or financial information, reassess the situation. Did you call them, or did they call you? Don’t give out information to an unsolicited caller; and if you’re feeling pressured or uncomfortable, that’s a very good sign that something isn’t right. Don’t continue the conversation! Instead, hang up the phone and find an official customer service hotline for the bank or office that the person claimed to be calling from.
Moreover, be aware that a spoofer might not even be a real person. You could receive a robocall requesting that you input a bank account number or visit a website. Again: be suspicious of unsolicited calls from names or numbers you don’t know. Visiting an unknown URL could lead to a virus. In some cases, the scammer might even set up a website that looks like it belongs to your bank, tricking you into inputting your login name and password.
Talk to Friends and Family
Spoofers rely on your lack of education, knowledge, and confidence to pull off fraud. The best weapon we have to fight back is to constantly learn more and to share information with friends and family. Start the conversation by asking if they’ve heard of spoofing or if they’ve ever received a strange phone call. Chances are that most people have some experience with this type of scam. The more you can talk about it together, the more prepared you’ll be to react smartly and calmly if someone tries to spoof you. Remember: If you’re unsure, don’t hang on – hang up the phone!
There are plenty of resources online to help you identify a spoof and prevent fraud. Check out helpful advice from the FCC and be sure to share this information with others; particularly if there are older adults in your life who might be targeted by unscrupulous spoofers.
If you liked this article, be sure to follow @myHUECU on Instagram for regular #TipTuesdays. Here's one: If asked for personal information over the phone, always hang up and call the official number listed on a company's website to verify the authenticity of the request.