Caller ID and Spoofing

Have you received calls lately from local numbers, and then you’ve answered it because you thought it was someone you know?  You are not alone.  Caller ID lets consumers avoid unwanted phone calls by displaying caller names and phone numbers, but the caller ID feature is sometimes manipulated by “spoofers” who masquerade as representatives of banks, creditors, insurance companies, or even the government.

“Spoofing” is when the caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity.  Spoofing is often used in an attempt to trick someone into giving away valuable personal information so it can be used in fraudulent activity or sold illegally. U.S. law and FCC rules prohibit most types of spoofing.  “Neighbor spoofing” is the same thing; however, the area code and prefix used are from your specific area.  In some cases a familiar name or business may appear on your caller ID.  There has been a rise in these types of calls over the past several months, and especially in the recent weeks. 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provides some direction on this increasingly popular activity. 

What you can do if you think you’re being spoofed?

You may not be able to tell right away if an incoming call is spoofed. Be careful about responding to any request for personal identifying information.

  • 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 voice mail if you do not set a password.

Is spoofing illegal?

Under the Truth in Caller ID Act, FCC rules prohibit any person or entity from transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.  If no harm is intended or caused, spoofing is not illegal.  Anyone who is illegally spoofing can face penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation.  In some cases, spoofing can be permitted by courts for people who have legitimate reasons to hide their information, such as law enforcement agencies working on cases, victims of domestic abuse or doctors who wish to discuss private medical matters.

Is blocking a phone number the same thing as spoofing?

Spoofing is not the same thing as blocking a phone number.  FCC rules require telephone companies to make phone number blocking available and free for all calls between states (each state makes its own rules about calls that stay within the state).  If you receive a phone call from an “unknown number,” that phone number has been blocked but not necessarily spoofed. Also, you can legally block the transmission of your phone number when you make calls, so your number will appear as “unknown.”

What are the FCC rules regarding caller ID for telemarketers?

FCC rules specifically require that a telemarketer:

  • Transmit or display its telephone number or the telephone number on whose behalf the call is being made, and, if possible, its name or the name of the company for which it is selling products or services.
  • Display a telephone number you can call during regular business hours to ask to no longer be called. This rule applies even to companies that already have an established business relationship with you.

How do I report suspected spoofing?

  • If you receive a call and you suspect caller ID information has been falsified, or you think the rules for protecting the privacy of your telephone number have been violated, you can file a complaint with the FCC.
  • By phone: 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322); TTY: 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322); ASL: 1-844-432-2275
  • By mail (please include your name, address, contact information and as much detail about your complaint as possible):  Federal Communications Commission Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division. 445 12th Street S.W., Washington, DC 20554

More information

Learn more about stopping unwanted calls and texts.

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Caller ID and Spoofing Guide