Phone spoofing is when a caller hides behind other phone numbers to disguise a call’s true origin. It is the deliberate falsification of the information that appears on the receiver's caller ID display. In Alabama, neighbor spoofing is the most commonly experienced phone spoofing. Neighbor spoofing is when a local number pops up on your phone, making you believe that the call is from an individual or a reputable business within your locality.
In the United States, spoofing is not illegal, especially when used under the law’s provision. A common example is when the police spoof a phone number to obtain important information from a suspect. Businesses can also use a toll-free number to contact their customers instead of their office numbers.
However, spoofing is also a means used to defraud, steal, and obtain sensitive information from Alabama residents. When this happens, spoofing is considered illegal and criminal. The popularity of Internet telephone technology such as Voice over Internet Protocol has also made spoofing very easy, leading to several financial and consumer frauds in the state.
Additionally, some service providers allow subscribers to use various numbers that do not belong to them in any given situation. Scammers prefer to use third-party applications to configure the phone so that the chosen number will be displayed instead of the number retrieved from the registered database. Generally, scammers also spoof the numbers of organizations that residents trust. Spoofing is used to facilitate many criminal activities in Alabama, and some of them are:
Swatting occurs when a spoofed number calls the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) to report a false incident to the team. This is usually done to elicit an immediate response from the team to waste their time or cause panic in the location they claim to have reported from. Individuals spoof their numbers so they can remain anonymous and unknown. Swatting may also be used to distract the team before committing the actual crime.
Phone spoofing is used to harass or play pranks on unsuspecting individuals. In this case, the scammer may pose as a friend, family, or a significant individual in the state. These pranks are not always dangerous; however, they may cause the victim to panic. Perpetrators of these types of crime mostly start by claiming to care for the target's welfare. This is to ensure that the target is comfortable talking with them.
Generally, this crime requires that the caller has some important information about the victim. The Office of the Attorney General (AAG) advises residents to always be conscious of the fact that not all calls from a known number are from the real owners of the number. A reverse phone lookup can help residents verify where a call originated from.
Scammers may spoof their numbers to look like those of reputable organizations and agencies within the state. The fraudsters may impersonate agencies such as the Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service, Alabama State Police, Local Courts, Alabama PowerPoint, and others.
Scammers use the information of these agencies to steal and extort money or information from their targets. Impersonation scams often involve threats to persuade the victim into giving up what the scammer wants. A reverse phone number search can be used when unsure of a call’s source.
Spoofing is legal only when a telemarketer follows the provision of state laws. However, spoofing that leads to loss of money is unlawful and prohibited. Scammers may spoof their numbers to impersonate a legitimate telemarketer. They use a pre-recorded script to persuade their audience and trick them into believing they are doing a legitimate business. Residents that have been targeted by these forms of call spoofing can file complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
How Do You Know If Your Number Is Being Spoofed?
Criminals may have spoofed your number if you start receiving calls and texts replying to conversations you did not initiate. Most times, such calls and texts are from the victims or targets of a scammer. To avoid being associated with a crime you did not commit, contact the FCC by calling 1-888-CALL FCC (225-5322) or file an online report.
Why is Phone Spoofing Illegal?
In the United States, caller ID spoofing is illegal if used to perpetrate crime or fraud. Residents have the right to decide whether or not to take a phone call, except when such calls are from verified law enforcement agencies. Scammers spoof their phone numbers to trick the target into believing that they are familiar with the caller. Any activity that involves the fraudulent acquisition of money and information from innocent individuals is unlawful and prohibited.
The federal law that regulates Caller ID is the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009. This Act prohibits any individual or business from deliberately transmitting false or wrong caller identification information for fraudulent intentions. Residents can use a reverse phone lookup search tool to identify unknown callers.
How Can You Identify and Protect Yourself from Illegal Spoofed Calls?
Scam calls may be difficult to deal with; hence, it is necessary to identify spoof calls and protect yourself from them. Some of the steps you can take are listed below.
- End a phone call if someone from a known organization is requesting to collect money or sensitive information over the telephone.
- Never take unknown calls; if the information is important, the caller will leave a message.
- Download and install a call blocking mobile application, such as Truecaller. You may have to block any number that is identified as a spoof caller.
- Contact the Federal Communications Commission by filing a complaint on the Commission’s website anytime you suspect a spoofed call.
- Register on the National Do Not Call Registry.
- Know that government agencies will not ask you for money via the telephone.
- Contact the Attorney General’s Office when a caller claims to be calling on behalf of the Attorney General.
Does Alabama Have Anti-Spoofing Laws?
There is no anti-spoofing law in Alabama at the moment. State Representative, Craig Lipscomb, had proposed a bill to make spoofing a phone number for criminal intention a felony. While the bill is under review, the state's only applicable law is the federal Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009. The Act makes it unlawful for any person to knowingly transmit false caller identification information to steal from them.
Violators of this law will pay fines between $10,000 to $1,000,000 for each violation of the law. The Federal government also mandates that service providers implement caller ID authentication using the STIR/SHAKEN protocols from 2021. The AAG handles complaints involving phone spoofing in accordance with the Federal law.
What are Common Phone Scams involving Caller ID Spoofing in Alabama?
Several phone scams involve phone spoofing. Scammers always want to hide their real identity, and spoofing is an effective way to do this. Residents who have been targeted by phone spoofing scams can file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Residents may also contact the FCC by calling 1-888-CALL FCC (225-5322). Some of the common phone spoofing scams that occur in Alabama State are listed below:
- Law enforcement impersonation scams
- Alabama PowerPoint scam
- Medicare scams
- Lottery/sweepstakes scam
- Credential scam
- Telemarketing scams
- Charity scams