Transatlantic Team To Wage War on Serial Spoofers


21st October 2013 brought good news for all phone-owners as the USA’s Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission joined forces with organisations in the UK and Canada to crack down on ‘spoof’ callers. This new task force aims to share international resources and knowledge to tackle nuisance callers’ stranglehold over phonelines the world over.

The Truth in Caller ID Act, passed by President Obama in December 2010, prohibits the masking of Caller ID with the intent to “defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value”. Working with Ofcom, the UK’s independent regulation and competition authority for communications industries, the UK-based Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the Canadian Competition Bureau and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the FTC and FCC have pledged to use their collective international jurisdiction act decisively and severely against the criminal act of spoofing.

Spoof calling, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, involves using some ingenious software to mask the number you’re actually calling from, preventing the recipients of your calls from locating you, or calling you back. This is naturally infurating for people plagued by anonymous calls. What’s even more infuriating is that whilst some spoofers use nonsense numbers instead of their own, others have gone the extra mile and strategically use the phone numbers of well-known organisations to execute some impressive scam manoeuvres. Let’s take a look at a couple.

Tellows users in the US reported this month that one band of tricksters have been using a phone number belonging to New York State Technology Enterprise Corporation (NYSTEC) to try and pose as telemarketers. User Gerald says about his call from 5186211390:

I got this call from “NYSTEC” but I figured out rather quickly that it was scam. Someone is “spoofing” their number cause NYSTEC doesn’t make any telemarketing calls or ask for donations. Nor would it ask personal information or even credit card information in that way.

NYSTEC soon cottoned onto the fact that their number was being used by a spoof caller and released a statement on their website.

More dramatically, last week’s ‘sheriff’ blog aptly illustrates how successful a daring fraudster can be. Numerous cases of sheriff-impersonation have been springing up all over the United States, convincing vulnerable citizens to, for example, bail out a relative or pay their way out of an arrest warrant.

A non-existent ‘Donald Mack’ from Kern County Sheriff’s department (9164148678) tried to tell user Jen that there was a warrant out for her arrest. The genuine sheriff’s department, when Jen called them back, confirmed that it’s not possible to be ‘served’ over the phone. Kudos to Jen for the cool-headed approach!

Fraudsters will even impersonate a string of different people, calling you back on different, faked numbers, working their way up a disciplinary hierarchy to try and scare you into paying up.

The numbers used by spoofers range from any old number, to the very frustrating 000-000-0000 number variants, to the phone numbers of prestigious organisations. Difficulty in tracking down the culprits is increased thousandfold by the fact that the origin of the call is completely untraceable. Without an area code, there is generally no way of discerning where or who a call has come from; this means that internationally-placed spoof calls are becoming increasingly common – hence the transatlantic team-up.

The joint statement, published on the ICO’s website, avers that the six regulators

will work together to share information and target organizations responsible for spoofing.

The member organisations will pool resources, share information and work together with telecommunications industries in their respective countries to target and reprimand offending organisations. Guidelines on what constitutes ‘misuse’ of the spoofing technique are also being reconsidered and clarified, with a view to introducing tougher punitive measures. And it’s not just the scam callers that are being targeted; silent and abandoned calls will be treated with equal severity.

For now though, until that distant day when spoofers and scammers have been silenced once and for all, remember to second-guess that unknown caller! Stay suspicious and have a great week.

Your tellows team

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