What is Number Spoofing – and How Can You Avoid This Type of Trap?

21st May 2021

Unfortunately, there are more and more cases of people falling prey to phone scams than ever before. While there are plenty of online scams and email traps emerging as the years go by, it seems that plenty of scammers continue to find phone scamming to be particularly lucrative. That’s largely because some of the techniques they are using are impressively advanced, meaning that even the most scam-aware person could find themselves on the wrong end of a fraud attempt.

Spoofing is just one of those scams which, while nothing particularly new, is growing ever-prevalent. Even if you have caller ID or have all the best intentions to avoid getting caught out, this is a style of engineering that could put you at serious risk of losing money. But what is phone spoofing – and how can you avoid it?

girl answering call

What is Phone Number Spoofing?

Spoofing is a term given by fraud experts to a technique through which scammers will change their numbers to fool people who screen their calls.

If you have caller ID on your landline, you may choose to only trust specific numbers with specific prefixes. What’s more, you may be extremely watchful for numbers that are unlisted or which are withheld. While many scammers and illegitimate callers and companies may previously have withheld all their numbers in the main, it’s now common for these scammers to use a variety of prefixes and numbers to try and get through to their targets.

So – even if you have caller ID in place, you’re at risk of falling prey to a scammer. Even OFCOM, who naturally ensures that the public is aware of the various trends and problems arising in fraud across the UK, advises that you must ignore caller ID if you’re uncertain of a caller for any reason.

It’s been the case that number spoofers have used prefixes and numbers that are similar to certain services and brands to try and trick people into believing they are legitimate causes for contact. Don’t fall prey to this type of attempt!

How to Stop Number Spoofing

Unfortunately, you alone are not going to be able to stop number spoofing outright. It’s a problem that OFCOM and telephone operators are working hard to try and iron out. However, one of the best things you can do is to simply stick to answering numbers you actually know and recognise. It’s tempting to just pick up the phone if a local number comes through – but many people are finding this leads to a fraud attempt.

One of the best pieces of advice you should always consider when dealing with any cold callers is to avoid giving out personal information. Callers from legitimate centres and businesses will not ask for your bank details, for example. You should also never treat the number or caller ID as the be-all and end-all when it comes to identification.

You have the right to refuse to speak to someone if you do not believe they are who they say they are! If you receive a call from someone you believe to be a spoofer, make sure to put down the phone and to call the company they are trying to imitate. The legitimate call centre will confirm with you whether or not the contact was, in fact, trustworthy. You should only ever start making a call until you’ve waited around five minutes so the line clears.

Should I Report Spoofing?

Yes. If you believe you’ve been the victim of a spoofing attempt, or if you have risked losing details to a would-be scammer, you must raise your complaint with the police – either via 101 or 999.

Otherwise, it is also an excellent idea to raise the matter with Action Fraud. You can call them directly on 0300 123 2040, or you can fill out a quick form on their official website. Action Fraud works hard to ensure that fraud trends are kept in the public eye.

What’s more, you may wish to get in touch with Citizens Advice, who can report scams directly to Trading Standards. The team at Trading Standards, too, work hard to make sure that fraud attempts are identified and stamped out as soon as physically possible.

Ultimately, you should also make sure the people you care about, and those who may be at risk from receiving a call of this nature, are aware that there are such scams going around. Otherwise, they may fall prey without even realising it.

If you have given out bank information or card details, do always call your bank or issuer’s fraud department as soon as possible. They will be on the lookout for strange activity on your account and may also suggest issuing new cards.

Crucially, spoofing is more than just a nuisance. If you do give out sensitive information over the phone, you must make sure you are dealing with the ‘real deal’. Many scammers will act friendly and use social engineering – asking questions with simple answers that could apply to anyone, not just you – meaning that even if you feel you are keeping your eyes peeled, you are still only human!

Should I Stop Using Caller ID?

Caller ID is still a fantastic feature that is worth using if you have many phone numbers saved as names in your handset. However, OFCOM advises against using it purely on the grounds that you can never really know for sure who’s calling.

You should make the effort to screen all calls. This means letting them transfer to voicemail or dial off. Many scammers have automated diallers and will remove numbers from their systems if they simply don’t connect. You should, if possible, also refrain from using custom voicemail messages. These will indicate to callers that your line is active, and you may even risk sharing personal information this way, too.

It’s a great idea to stay vigilant – and remember, if you can’t safely ID a caller, don’t proceed with a conversation!