My An Arkie's Faith column from the May 26, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.
Ring, ring, ring. I crawled out of the vehicle I was working on and headed for the phone. “Richie’s,” I said, answering the phone. The voice on the other end of the line was furious. “I want you to stop calling me,” she shouted. I assured her that I had not called her. “Well, someone there is calling me,” she retorted. “I work alone, so I can assure you that no one called you from here,” I replied, adding, “my company never makes unsolicited phone calls.” “I know that the calls have been coming from you because your number is on my Caller ID,” she shrieked.
I tried to calm her down by telling her, “I think that I know what is going on.” I explained that I had received telemarketer calls that showed on my caller ID as local phone numbers. A telemarketer knows that you are more likely to answer the phone if you think the call is from a local number. I’m not sure that she believed me, but at least she wasn’t yelling by the time our conversation ended. She and I had both been the victims of spoofing, and you probably have been too.
Spoofing is when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to your caller ID display to disguise their identity. Scammers often use neighbor spoofing, so it appears that an incoming call is coming from a local number or from a company that you may already know and trust. It seems that almost daily, I get robocalls that seem to come from local numbers.
The most common robocalls that I receive go something like this. “Hi, this is Susie calling with the vehicle service department. I see here that the warranty on your car is about to expire, and I was calling to see if you would like to extend this warranty to keep your car protected.” The Federal Communications Commission says that calls like this are the most common robocalls and were the top unwanted call complaint filed by consumers last year.
Unfortunately, we can’t trust the phone’s caller ID or the email address on the message in our inbox. The Facebook profile we just got a message from may not be our high school classmate. Spoofers and spammers have a lot of nasty tricks up their sleeve, from posing as a member of the IRS to lying about your car’s warranty. No matter who the spammer is, their goal is to separate you from your money. Spoofers and scammers are shockingly successful. Research from Statista, the number one business data platform, shows that Americans lost over nineteen billion dollars to scam calls in 2020.
Number spoofers are like modern-day pirates, commandeering phone numbers instead of ships. Spoofers’ and pirates’ goal is the same: to make a profit by dishonest means. According to the Federal Communications Commission and the Truth in Caller ID Act, call spoofing is illegal only when the caller intends to “defraud, harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value” from the call recipient. In these cases, people found guilty of call spoofing can be fined up to $10,000 per call. Unfortunately, prosecutions are rare.
Maybe, like me, you have received phone calls threatening that the Police, Sheriff, IRS, or DEA will be at your house shortly to arrest you if you don’t make payment arrangements. Or that the Police need donations for death benefits for officers who die in the line of duty, or the firefighters need money. The list goes on and on! We live in a world where we are unsure about who to trust.
On March 17, 2021, The Federal Communications Commission fined Texas-based telemarketers $225 million for transmitting approximately one billion robocalls, many of them illegally spoofed, to sell short-term, limited-duration health insurance plans. At that time, acting FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel issued a statement saying, “the FCC receives more complaints about robocalls than any other issue. It’s easy to see why! Robocalls are intrusive and annoying, and during the last few years, the number has skyrocketed. Worse, many of these calls involve scams. To protect ourselves, many of us rely on Caller ID and only pick up the phone if we recognize the number.
So one of the most insidious things robocallers do is trick people into taking the call. They disguise who they are by spoofing their number and instead use numbers that we trust—friends, family, and familiar institutions.
This isn’t just frustrating—it’s dangerous. When we can’t trust that the number we see is the number that is truly calling, we’re less likely to pick up the phone and more likely to miss important calls from those we really care about.
So today we do something historic: we impose the largest fine ever for the illegal spoofing of telephone numbers. The individuals involved didn’t just lie about who they were when they made their calls—they said they were calling on behalf of well-known health insurance companies on more than a billion calls. That’s fraud on an enormous scale.
This is a just outcome. But the truth is that given the size and scope of the problem, we have to do much, much more.”
Gentle Reader, all of us are susceptible to being scammed. Whenever I hear of someone caught in a scam, I want to say, “What in the world were you thinking? Couldn’t you see that it was only a scam?” I may have never fallen for a telephone scam, but I have fallen for Satan’s deceptions many times. The Bible informs us, “Most importantly, be disciplined and stay on guard. Your enemy the devil is prowling around outside like a roaring lion, just waiting and hoping for the chance to devour someone. Resist him and be strong in your faith. 1 Peter 5:8-9 (VOICE) Satan is always stalking us, looking for a way to enter into our lives and destroy us. For some, he uses selfishness and greed. And for others, he uses doubt and fear. He suggests that we should hate those who are different from us or disagree with our views. Regardless of what tactic he uses, Satan intends to scam us out of our relationship with God. Please don’t fall for his scam.