You glance at your phone when it rings and see a number that looks a lot like yours, maybe even one with the first six digits the same. Do you answer the phone?
Many fraudsters hope you will, and that’s why they frequently use fake caller ID numbers. They can even match your first six digits, which is known as “neighbor spoofing.” The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) want to raise awareness about neighbor spoofing, as well as other types of illegal robocalls by people seeking money or your personal information.
“Unwanted, unlawful calls are not merely a serious aggravation,” Rosemary Harold, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, told members of Congress at an April 2018 hearing on robocalls . “Many robocall and spoofing schemes are designed to trick people out of significant amounts of money. These schemes often are most effective in harming vulnerable populations, such as senior citizens.”
Some of the robocalls threaten people with jail or lawsuits if they don’t pay a bill or debt.
Neighbor spoofing is prohibited under the federal Truth in Caller ID Act. “Consumers depend on caller ID information to help them decide whether to answer a phone call and whether to trust the caller on the other end of the line,” Harold went on to tell members of Congress.
The FTC and FCC have teamed up to combat robocalls, including neighbor spoofing. In March, they held a joint policy forum to learn more about what is being done to help consumers.
“For years, this has generated the most consumer complaints to the FCC, and the FTC has gotten a lot of public feedback about it as well,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said at the March forum. “The unfortunate inventiveness of scammers, technical challenges, and sheer volume of calls are daunting for any one entity to defeat. But working together, we have a better chance .”
Last November, the FCC allowed phone companies to block calls from spoofed phone numbers that can’t generate calls, such as invalid or unassigned phone numbers. That, Pai said, allows many scam calls to be blocked before your phone even rings.
When you get a call from a number that resembles yours, remember it may be faked. The FTC recommends letting it go to voicemail, or simply hanging up if you do pick up and don’t recognize the caller.
“Consumers shouldn’t answer the phone if they don’t know who’s calling,” Pai said in a video offering suggestions for the public on robocalls. If you do answer, don’t give out any personal information. If you get a call from someone who says they represent a company or government agency seeking money or personal information, hang up and contact the company or agency directly.
Scammers will often use scare tactics to pressure consumers into providing payment via wire transfers or gift cards. Law enforcement and government agencies would never ask for such payments, Pai said . If you are being pressured for information or payment immediately, use caution.
There are several options to block robocalls or other unwanted calls. These may include mobile apps, features built into your phone, call-blocking devices or services and services from your cell phone provider. The FTC offers a guide to these services.
Another step you can take is making sure your phone number is on the national Do Not Call Registry. The registry is aimed at stopping certain sales calls from actual companies, so it won’t stop scam calls. But you can use the site to report scam calls.
Don’t hesitate to file complaints on the Do Not Call site if you receive these calls, Pai said.
“Complaints matter. We use them to help catch those who break the law,” Pai said. “And they’re important in helping us to update our policies to make sure we have rules in place to go after these robocalls before they’re unleashed.”
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