Toledo, OH - TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - While many use caller ID to protect privacy and screen phone calls, that option is being taken away by an activity called spoofing.
Spoofem.com owner Greg Evans says spoofing is simple: The user enters the number they want to appear on the caller ID - any number, from the White House to your grandmother's house.
"You can masquerade an email, a telephone number or a text message and make it look like it came from someone else," Evans said.
In addition to faking an email or text message, spoofing includes features like voice disguising and call recording.
Spoofing can be dangerous because it can be used for such nefarious purposes as checking someone's unprotected voicemail and calling from a local bank asking for sensitive information.
If that isn't scary enough, spoofing helps scam artists cheat millions of Americans.
One scam victim received a phone call, supposedly from her grandson asking for $5,000 because he'd been injured. The caller ID read "Toronto Hospital."
These scammers make big bucks for a small price, spending only $10 for 60 minutes of spoofing. And as the economy goes down, the number of victims will only go up, says Dick Eppstein of the Better Business Bureau.
"Understand this exists, and you can not trust your caller ID," Eppstein warned, noting that catching scam artists isn't easy. "You find out the guy who's doing it is in Madrid, what do you do then?"
Though spoofing is proven to have a level of danger, it is still easily accessible. A bill was proposed to Congress in 2007 that would have prohibited the sale of caller ID spoofing services, but it never passed.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) says banning it all together would be unconstitutional and others argue there are good uses for it. Legitimate bounty hunters, private investigators and collection agencies, for example, use spoofing to help catch criminals.
"You have to reach a balance, draw a line here where you want legitimate free speech and legitimate profit-making activities to be allowed," Brown said.
However, Brown admits the laws aren't keeping up with technology, and to remedy that, the U.S. Senate is considering a bill that would make fraudulent use of spoofing illegal.
But crooks don't abide by laws, so you must protect yourself.
- Set up a password for your voicemail; it's even possible for iPhone users with visual voicemail;
- Be sure to verify all calls before reacting and never give out personal information;
- Ask if you can call them back, if they protest or hang up, you can almost be sure you're being spoofed.