What is Number Spoofing?

By August 6, 2018 No Comments

Have you noticed an influx of calls from numbers with your area code? You’re not alone. Calls from spoofed numbers have skyrocketed in the past few years. In fact, we’ve detected that more scam calls originate from mobile numbers over landlines – we project just 24% of scam calls will come from landlines by 2019.

So why the switch? Phone scamming is a billion-dollar crime operation, and just like any other industry, scammers are always looking to make business more efficient. Back in the day, scammers used 1-800 numbers to look like legitimate businesses. Now that fewer people trust unknown numbers, they’ve had to come up with more creative solutions to get potential victims on the phone.

That’s where number spoofing comes in. When people think a number with the same area code could be an urgent call, they’re more likely to answer. It could be a potential client. There might be a problem at school. Maybe it’s a friend with a new number. Scammers have started relying on number spoofing because it piques people’s interest in the call.

Spoofing is the practice of tricking networks into thinking a call is originating from a different number. The technology has been available for years to collection agencies, law-enforcement officials, and private investigators – though the legality of using such services is varied. In 2004, the first mainstream caller ID spoofing service launched, allowing people to spoof calls from a web interface. Once these types of services went mainstream, people abused their new-found power in a variety of ways. Political callers spoofed the numbers of ambulance companies and hospitals to trick people into picking up during the 2010 elections. eBay and Craigslist scammers often posed as purchasers to coerce sellers into sending them copies of sensitive documents before they “drove to see the item” for sale. And of course, prank calls. Nothing like a call from “The White House” to make your weekend more interesting!

In the past, caller ID spoofing required advanced knowledge and expensive equipment. Now, open source Voice over IP (VoIP) software makes it easy to spoof with minimal experience and cost. Spoofing is technically legal in the US unless done “with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.” Which, let’s face it, is exactly what these scammers are trying to do.

The practice of spoofing has now evolved from using known numbers to make a call seem more legitimate to neighborhood spoofing, which leads a caller to believe they might know the person on the other end. Some scammers even rely on humans’ innate sense of curiosity by displaying a number eerily similar to the one they’re calling – sometimes even exact. The BBB suggests ignoring calls from any number you don’t recognize, even if it’s local. If the call is urgent, the caller will leave a message. If your own number is used as a spoofed number, you might get confused calls or texts from people asking why you called. Knowing that scammers are using your number may help with that confusion.

With phone scam practices like neighborhood spoofing on the rise, First Orion has rapidly developed innovative call “fingerprinting” solutions to quickly and accurately identify new fraud techniques. Just like burglars may leave fingerprints at the scene of the crime, scam callers leave “call prints” all over the networks. We track those and look for suspicious patterns so we can flag those calls as probable scams. Apps like PrivacyStar and in-network solutions from mobile providers can help manage unwanted spoofed calls and block known scammers automatically.

If you’re ever unsure about an unknown number, the best practice is to do nothing at all. As fewer people respond to these methods, scammers will have to resort to their next trick to get callers on the line…and we’ll be waiting with our next solution to stop them.