The State Bar of Arizona has recently circulated a warning about a type of telephone scam which uses caller ID “spoofing.”  In this type of scam, the scammer disguises his or her number to trick the target into thinking he or she is speaking with a trustworthy person, such as a police officer or attorney.

What is Spoofing?

“Spoofing” is telephone technology which allows one phone number to be disguised as another on caller ID.  Many businesses and law enforcement offices use spoofing for legitimate purposes – for instance, to protect the privacy of employees or crime victims by disguising their personal mobile numbers.  Unfortunately, scammers have begun to take advantage of this telephone service feature and misuse it for personal gain, and there is no way for a business owner to prevent his or her number from being used in a scam.

What a Spoofing Scam Looks Like

Here’s how a typical spoofing scam call might go:

  1. You receive a call from a trusted number, such as a familiar business (even ELET!).
  2. Even though the number looks familiar, the person on the line is unfamiliar to you, and they tell you that you need to pay additional money or ask you for sensitive identification information.  They may give you a toll-free number to call for submitting that information or making a payment.
  3. If you call the toll-free number, you are directed as to how to pay money or submit your information.

How to Avoid Falling Victim to a Scam

The first way to avoid being tricked is to maintain a healthy level of suspicion, especially when it comes to your caller ID.  Just because the number looks familiar, your security is not guaranteed.  If you are being asked for money or sensitive information and you have any doubt at all as to the authenticity of a call, don’t reveal your information right away!  Pay attention to the warning flags that pop up in your mind when you are asked for sensitive information.

If you are unsure as to the legitimacy of the call (for instance, if you receive a call which appears to be from ELET but you are not sure if you are really speaking to an ELET employee), hang up and call the business’s published number.  An incoming call to a familiar person or business will be directed to the actual owner of the number, not to the scammer.  If the call comes from an unfamiliar but possibly legitimate source (the IRS, police station, a bank, etc.), ask the caller to give you a number where you can return their call.  Then do an online search for that number.  If the number appears in a business listing, chances are the call is legitimate and it is safe to call back.

Safeguard Your Information

At Elder Law of East Tennessee, we encourage all of our clients to be very careful with personal information and only share as much as is needed.  With many scams particularly targeting the elderly population, it is important for elders and their adult children to guard against potential scams.  We also encourage other business owners to educate their clients of all age groups about spoofing scams.  While businesses cannot protect their own numbers from being scammed, we can all ensure the ongoing trust of our clients by educating them about potential scams and responding with sensitivity whenever a client wishes to double-check our credentials before revealing information.