Better Business Bureau serving the Mid-South says area consumers have reported receiving illegal marketing calls that display their own phone number on caller ID. Most consumers’ curiosity about such calls gets the best of them and causes them to answer when they see their own number show up on their caller id. However, BBB advises the public to ignore the calls or let them go to voicemail – and then delete the messages.
"It's a pretty clever ruse devised to get people to answer their phones," said Randy Hutchinson, president and CEO of BBB serving the Mid-South. "When you see your own number on caller ID, it makes you wonder what it's all about. We're advising people to not let curiosity or confusion make them answer the phone."
One Memphis woman who received a call with her own number displayed on caller ID told BBB that it upset her and made her afraid that her number would somehow be associated with a scam. “I don’t want my number used to scam anyone!” she said. Another area woman said her phone displayed her own number and the name of her deceased husband on a recent incoming call. She didn’t answer the call.
Spoofing your own number to you may also help fraudsters beat new call-screening services that rely on blacklists of known robocallers and illegal telemarketers to help block unwanted calls. A person's own phone number is not likely to be on the blacklist, so these telemarketers hope to beat the filtering software by spoofing that number.
Here's how the scam works:
Your phone rings and you see your own name and/or phone number pop up on caller ID. If you answer, a computerized message delivers a marketing message, such as claiming to be able to lower your credit card interest rates, which of course, means they will require your credit card number.
In some cases, consumers are informed they can supposedly opt-out of future calls by pressing “1” or speak to a representative by pressing “2”. Pressing any number simply tells the computerized dialer that yours is a good, working number. Your number is then added to phone lists which scammers then sell to other scammers on the black market, which results in more calls of this nature from other shady telemarketing firms.
The practice of using technology to alter or disguise the true number of an incoming telephone call is known as "spoofing" and it’s not illegal, unless the caller intends to do harm while spoofing a caller id number. It’s a tactic that’s growing among criminals to pretend they are calling from a well-known company or government agency. By hijacking the names and phone numbers of familiar, legitimate organizations, the callers attempt to gain your trust in hopes they can trick you into handing over personal or financial information. And now they’ve added the confusion factor of spoofing your own number to you.
Most telemarketing sales calls with recorded messages, such as those offering to lower your credit card interest rate or sell you debt reduction services, are illegal unless you have given the company express written permission to call you. FTC rules allow some prerecorded messages that are purely informational.
The FTC recently wrapped up its second contest - Zapping Rachel – to stimulate ideas to help stop robocalls, like those from “Rachel from Cardholder Services”. More information about the FTC’s rule regarding robocalls can be found at ftc.gov/robocalls.
Consumers who attempt to report these spoofing calls in which their own phone numbers are shown on caller id are often thwarted when the complaint form asks for the number that appeared on caller id. “They don’t want to report their own phone number,” Hutchinson said. “They don’t want to take a chance that reporting their own number will cause someone to think they are somehow involved in the scam itself.”
Nevertheless, BBB and FTC do want to hear about these calls and other suspect robocalls. People can file complaints by visiting www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov. The FTC is interested in the time and date the call (or calls) occurred and what products are being offered.
Before responding to unsolicited phone calls, BBB advises:
Let calls from numbers you don’t recognize or that appear to come from your own number roll to voicemail. If the call is legitimate, the caller will leave a message and you can call them back.
Never give out any financial information on an unsolicited call. If you did not initiate the call, do not provide bank account, credit card, Social Security numbers or other personally identifiable information over the phone. It's best to end calls that make you uncomfortable or that you're not sure about and follow up with your bank or financial institution – or government agency – directly.
Remember that you can’t always rely on caller ID. Scammers can use technology to make it appear as though their calls are coming from legitimate businesses or organizations – or even from your own phone number. Caller ID is a helpful feature, but it's far from foolproof. Keep your guard up.
Trust your instincts – If something doesn't seem right to you, end the call and report your experience to BBB, by calling 901-759-1300 or 800-222-8754 or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BBB is an unbiased, non-profit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses that earn BBB accreditation contractually agree to adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Reviews on both BBB Accredited and non-accredited businesses, as well as educational information on a variety of topics, including scams and frauds, consumer financial education and ethics. The BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, 112 BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada, evaluating and monitoring more than 4 million local and national businesses and charities. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information.