Are you getting calls from their own number? Or maybe from a local businesses or private phone numbers, but when you answer it's a telemarketer, collection agency, or some sort of robo-call on the other end?
The FCC calls this “spoofing” and although it's been around for years, it has only recently become more commonly used by thiefs trying to scam you.
There are “spoof apps” which can be downloaded to cell phones. These "apps" allow a thief to hide the actual phone number and make it look like they are calling from your phone or another number that you are more likely to answer.
In the past, collection agencies used it to mask their calls by making it look like an innocent local number, gambling the person called will be more likely to answer it. The technology has now been adapted by scammers and telemarketers.
How it's done
Here's what happens:
You get a call from your own number, or a very similar number (maybe a digit or two off).
The caller claims to be from the phone company purportedly testing the line. They ask for verification of the your birthday, SSN or other identifying info. They will then ask you to punch in a series of numbers which somehow allows the bad guy to hack into your phone records. The thief can then attempt to steal your identity, access your bank account or other records to steal from you.
According to the FCC, the number of phone services and the spread of technology make it virtually impossible to police or prevent spoofing. As with most scams, the elderly seem to be primary targets.
Caller ID fraud is illegal under federal law. If an individual or company masks their caller ID status with a false or deceptive number, and it can be proven to be with the intent to defraud, they can be assessed a civil fine of up to $10,000. There are a number of limited exemptions to the law such as for law enforcement and social service agencies, like legal aid or domestic violence agencies who assist vulnerable persons in danger of violence or abuse with the abuser still living in the household.
What can you do?
Do not give the caller personal financial or other sensitive information. Never give out or confirm personal financial or other sensitive information like your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number unless you know the company or person you are talking with is a real debt collector. Scam artists, like fake debt collectors, can use your information to commit identity theft such as:
Charging your existing credit cards
Opening new credit card or checking accounts
Writing fraudulent checks
Taking out loans in your name