Try to be spoof-proof: Taking steps to avoid phone scams

The Federal Communications Commission has reported a rise in “neighbor spoofing.” It’s a tactic illegal robocallers use to try to trick you into answering calls. Advances in technology are behind the surge in calls, according to the FCC, which regulates America’s phone, broadcast, television and Internet services.

In neighbor spoofing, callers hide behind a fake caller ID number that matches your area code and the first three digits of your phone number, so you think they are local. You may get a call that matches your number exactly; officials say malicious robocallers may do this to avoid call blocking. A caller may pose as a business, organization or the government to trick you into giving out or confirming personal information that can be used in fraudulent activity.

Making autodialed or prerecorded calls to consumers without their consent is illegal. Some robocalls are allowed—for example, those concerning bank fraud alerts, health care reminders, package deliveries and federal loans. Thanks to the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, FCC rules prohibit any person or entity from “transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongly obtain anything of value.”

Last year, the FCC proposed its largest fine yet: $120 million against the perpetrator of an illegal robocall campaign who used neighbor spoofing to make 96 million robocalls during a three-month period. When consumers answered the calls, they heard a prerecorded message that advertised “exclusive” vacation deals impersonating companies such as Marriott, Expedia, Hilton and TripAdvisor. Prompted to “Press 1,” consumers were transferred to foreign call centers where live operators tried to sell them low-quality vaca tion packages that had no relation to the well-known companies they impersonated. An FCC statement explains that unsuspecting consumers deceived into taking the bait spent from a few hundred up to a few thousand dollars on these “exclusive” deals.

Putting your phone number on the Do Not Call Registry lets you choose whether to receive sales calls from legitimate companies, but it does not stop illegal calls. Perpetrators do not care about breaking the law.

Here are some tips to protect yourself.

Do not answer a call from an unrecognized caller ID. Experts warn that picking up a call verifies an active number and could subject you to more calls. Also, avoid calling back to find out who called; it could lead to a scam.

Hang up if you answer an unwanted call. Do not press number buttons to be connected with someone; it could lead to a scam.

Do not rely on caller ID. If a caller claims to be a business, organization or the government, hang up, look up call-back information from a legitimate website or recent bill and verify that the call you received is authentic.

Do not provide or confirm your personal information. Do not offer or confirm account numbers, your Social Security number, passwords or other identifying information unless you know who you are dealing with.

Look into services that can help block unwanted calls.Some are free; others cost money. According to the Federal Trade Commission these services include features on your mobile phone, apps, cloud-based services, call-blocking devices or services provided by your phone service carrier. If you are considering an app and have privacy concerns, check the app’s privacy policy.

Be suspicious of any caller pressuring you to take immediate action. In general, it is the sign of a scam.

Report unwanted calls

Both the FCC and the FTC work with telecommunications providers, industry groups and counterparts at federal, state and international government bodies to combat illegal calls. By reporting unwanted calls, you help phone carriers and partners working on call-blocking solutions, as well as law enforcement pursuing offenders.

You can file complaints at and, and report unwanted calls at

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