It may sound like an existential question, but if you receive a call from your own phone number, it"s not future you on the other end. It"s probably a scammer, and you shouldn"t answer.
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Caller ID spoofing is a process by which con artists, pranksters and robocallers disguise their phone numbers to make it look like someone else is calling. Spoofed calls may appear to come from banks, 911, government agencies, or from a familiar number — like your own.
Scammers hope that"ll confuse you enough to get you to answer. If you do, they"ll likely claim "your account has been flagged," threaten you, say your information has been "compromised," or ask for your social security or credit card numbers.
Don"t give them any information. They"ll either sell it, use it to take your money, or both.
Spoofing has been around since the early 2000s, but lately has become especially prevalent.
Social media this month has been flooded with posts from people alarmed by the bizarre calls. Fraudsters impersonating insurance agents have been targeting people affected by recent hurricanes, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
Is spoofing illegal?
Spoofing is only illegal if it is done "with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongly obtain anything of value," according to the Truth In Caller ID Act, a federal law passed in 2009.
Scammers who spoof can be subject to fines up to $10,000 per violation, "or three times that amount for each day of a continuing violation," the law reads.
Tennessee lawmakers this summer amended the state"s anti-phishing law, making it a Class A misdemeanor to falsify caller ID information with intent to "defraud, harm or steal." Violators may be subject to similar fines.
If you receive a call that you suspect to be spoofed, you can file a complaint with the FCC. If you"re in Tennessee, you can call the state"s Division of Consumer Affairs at 615-741-4737.
If you"re not sure whether the call has been spoofed, you can stay on the line and use another phone to dial the number to see if it"s busy. If the caller claims to be a government official or insurance agent, verify the number independently and call them back.
Spoofing is not the same as dialing *67 to block a phone number so the phone receiving the call reads, "No Caller ID," or "Unknown Number." That"s legal.
How would one spoof, if one were to enjoy that sort of thing?
One way to spoof caller ID is to use a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service. VoIP allows voice communications to be sent over the Internet, rather than through a phone line or cell tower.
Some VoIP providers allow customers to choose what number they display as their caller ID. When users make a call, the VoIP service changes the outbound caller ID and connects to the dialed number.
Many websites provide caller ID spoofing services. Most charge, but some offer free trials or one-time calls with time limits.
On those sites, users typically enter the number they want to call and the number they want to be displayed on the receiving end. The site then gives the user a third number to call and an access code to input. That call connects to the dialed number.
Some spoofing services allow users to record calls or to mask their voices, which can be pretty creepy.
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Oh, and make sure to set a password for your voicemail — some voicemail services allow access after they receive a call from your number.