HELENA – Getting a phone call from a number that you don’t recognize is not an unusual occurrence. But scammers are using technology to make it appear as if you do recognize that number in hopes of taking your money.
Caller ID became popular in the United States in the 1980s. Now, that technology has become routine and scammers are using your trust in the name on your phone screen as a way to try and con whatever they get can out of you.
“They have the technology through their software now where the number actually shows up as the people who they say they are. For instance, the IRS, it shows up as a legitimate IRS number,” explained Assistant Attorney General Chuck Munson.
It’s known as spoofing and Munson described it as a ‘type of art.’
He said the newest type of spoofing scam is called the neighbor scam.
“They’ll go through the effort of figuring out, what’s the area code of the area that I’m calling and even what’s the phone prefix, we will go ‘oh, I recognize this number, it’s not a scammer’,” stated Munson.
Scammers will try anything to get your personal information.
“Once they get you like this [hand held like a phone], that’s where they want you.”
The Department of Justice’s Office of Consumer Protection said thousands of Montanans have received some sort of spoofing call in the past year.
“I will say some consumer trends tend seem to hit Montana a little later than they hit major, metro areas around the United States, but not this one. This is affecting everyone everywhere,” Munson said. “These robo calls are the number one complaint around the U.S.”
Usually the scammer is claiming to be from a recognizable organization in hopes of gaining your trust, which could turn into your financial information.
But there is one thing you need to remember to avoid getting spooked by a spoof.
“No legitimate company, no government agency, ever approaches someone in that way,” reminded Munson.
Munson says there are some apps you can download for your phone that blocks spoofed calls, such as Truecaller, PrivacyStar and White Pages Current.
Another way to prevent getting scammed, don’t answer phone numbers you don’t know.
Below are some tips from the Federal Communications Commission about what you can do if you think you’re being spoofed:
- Never give out personal information such as account numbers, social security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious
- If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency seeking personal information, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book or on the company’s or government agency’s website to verify the authenticity of the request
- Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately
- If you have a voice mail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it. Some voicemail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number. A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voicemail if you don’t set a password
If you have received a spoofed call, or believe you have been a victim of a scam, be sure to contact the Office of Consumer Protection.