Scammers can hide behind your cell phone number

Scammers can hide behind your cell phone number

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Scammers are known for stealing personal information, but now they're using people's cell phone numbers to disguise themselves while they're doing it.

"The guy said, 'Hey, I got a missed call from this number,'" Chad Hanmer said. "I said, 'Hm, I didn't call you.'"

The phenomenon is known as phone spoofing. The Better Business Bureau of Coastal Carolina's interim CEO, Sandy Gamby, said it's the root behind many phone scams now.

"It's messing with my livelihood and I'm sure it's messing with other people's livelihoods," Hanmer said.

Gamby gave the following statement about phone spoofing:

People can use apps to alter their caller ID information so that you never really know who or what number a call is originating from now.  For example, a scammer can alter their information to appear that they're calling from a popular bank in a certain community, including the phone number of that bank, and then use an automatic dialer to place several calls at once, so that they reach some folks who bank with that particular one and will believe the call is valid.  That increases the likelihood that the consumer being  called will share account information, etc. It's basically the phone version of email phishing. Reporting is important for keeping others aware, but when it's used, it's so hard for the origin of the call to be traced.  Usually law enforcement tells us they only want to hear from actual victims because they're overwhelmed with the reports.

WMBF News found out about phone spoofing after Reporter Amy Lipman saw she missed a call from a number with a Wisconsin area code. She called it back and Chad Hanmer was on the other end of the line. He explained he never called her, and instead, a telemarketer had used his number when the call went through to her phone.

He said the calls started coming in Saturday afternoon.

"I got like eight of them in a row within ten minutes, same thing," he said.

Hanmer said he got nearly 60 calls Saturday, 181 calls Sunday, and more than 200 Monday all saying they had missed a call from his phone number.

One person told him he talked to the person calling and that person was trying to sell football bets.

When he asked his phone carrier, Verizon, about his options, he was told he could wait it out or change numbers.

"I asked them is there anything they can do," he said. "They said nope. They can't trace it since they're not using my service or my line per se. They're just using my number to disguise theirs."

He said the calls would come in continuously over periods of several hours then taper off each day.

"I could barely keep up answering," he said.

He said some people were nice when they heard about the situation, but many were rude.

"I found it was better to explain what happened to me, not that everybody believed me or understood what I was saying," he said.

Hanmer said he doesn't know why or how his number was chosen.

"Luck of the draw I guess - or unluck of the draw," he said.

He decided to wait it out to see if the calls would stop because changing his number would hurt his livelihood. He is the operations manager for a restoration company called Tri State Restoration. He said one call could be for a project worth up to $300,000.

"There's a lot of people that do our business, you know what I mean, so if you miss one call you could be out of a job," Hanmer said.

The calls have died down since Monday, but he's worried about this weekend.

"This is a lot harder than any card hack I've ever had," he said.

Information Security Consultant and Attorney Scott Aurnou said anyone can become a victim of this. He said the person whose number is being used not only has to deal with receiving the missed calls, but also anybody looking to find the scammer if they answered the phone and got caught in the scam itself.

He said the main defense people have is to avoid giving their phone numbers out to companies as often as possible.

Verizon Public Relations Manager Kate Jay said: "Verizon is committed to protecting our customers from fraud. Spoofing is sometimes used by telemarketers or other fraudsters. The best source of information for you and your viewers is the FCC site -"

The Federal Communications Commission accepts complaints of phone spoofing.

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