Have you ever gotten a phone call and noticed that the caller ID displays a phone number that is very similar to your own number — or is even the same as your phone number?
How does that happen?
Why Some Spam Phone Numbers Are So Similar to Your Own Number
It is called “spoofing,” and the caller is using a fake phone number. There are a couple of different kinds: “neighbor” spoofing and “reflection” spoofing.
Neighbor spoofing is a call from a number that appears to be close to your own, often the same area code and first three digits of your phone number. The intention here is to make you think the call is local, coming from a “neighbor,” so that you’ll be more likely to answer the call.
Reflection spoofing is when the caller’s number appears to be the same as your own, a “reflection” of your number. The scammers hope that you’ll be curious enough to answer the call.
The intention in both cases is to get you to answer the phone. That gives the scammers a chance to talk you out of your private information, such as credit or debit card numbers or even your Social Security number, to use it for malicious purposes.
“Here’s how it works,” money expert Clark Howard says. “You get a text from yourself, and you’re like, ‘Wow! What’s going on here?’ And like a fish with the hook in the mouth, you click on it and then you download a virus to your phone that allows criminals to engage in all kinds of mischief.”
What You Should Do When You Receive These Types of Calls
Do Not Answer
The best way to protect yourself is to not answer any calls from phone numbers you don’t know. Instead, allow the call to go to voice mail. If the call is legitimate, the caller will leave you a message or call back. If you suspect the call is from a business you deal with, you can call the company back using a number you know to be legitimate.
“If you get any text from the sender, supposedly being you, do not open it. If you can, on your phone, simply delete it, but regardless, don’t open them,” Clark says.
Do Not Respond
If you do answer the call, do not respond to any questions — not even with a “yes” or “no” response. If the call is a recording, and it tells you to press a number to opt out of future calls or to be connected with a representative, do not press any number. When you press a number, you’ve just confirmed that your phone number is active.
Some scammers claim to be law officers or workers with a government agency. They’ll threaten you with arrest or tell you that you must provide payment or information to avoid legal action. You should always consider this type of call to be a scam, and hang up immediately without answering any questions or providing any information.
You might get a call from someone telling you that you’ve won some type of prize, but to receive it, you must pay some money in advance. Again, this is always a scam. Never provide payment information of any kind. The caller might tell you to pay using a gift card, prepaid debit card or cash reload card, or by wiring money or using a money transfer app. This is always a scam!
Another tactic these crooks use is making something sound like an emergency so that you will respond immediately. Scammers have called people and told them that their child or grandchild has been arrested and they need to provide bail money immediately. Do not fall for this type of threat.
Block the Number
When you receive a spoof call, block the number. Both iPhones and Android phones have options to do that. You can also contact your cell service provider to find out what tools it offers to block or warn you of spam calls. Most providers now use some sort of spam identification utility that alerts you when a call is likely spam.
Many cell phones have what’s known as a “whitelisting” tool. This allows you to block all calls from numbers that are not on your contact list. This can be a useful feature, but it’s not a perfect solution. If you’re expecting a call from your doctor or someone with whom you do business, unless their numbers are in your contact list, those calls will be blocked.
You can report spam calls to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
To quote the agency website, “By filing a consumer complaint and telling your story, you contribute to federal enforcement and consumer protection efforts on a national scale and help us identify trends and track the issues that matter most.”
Visit the FCC’s complaint center page here to file a complaint.
If you haven’t already added your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry, do it. It won’t prevent spam calls but adds your name to a “do not call” list for sales and marketing calls, so it will help cut down on those types of calls.
Scammers are using new tactics every day to trick people into revealing personal information. You must be vigilant and know that these types of calls happen.
Always err on the side of caution. It’s better to suspect that every call can potentially be malicious than to fall for a spoof call and end up losing money or becoming the victim of identity theft.